This is probably the longest blog post known to man and I did consider splitting it into a few posts, but I decided against it as I just wanted to write it all out and get it all out into the open. I’ve found that if I’m honest about the fact I have an issue and I’m able to confront it, then I’m more likely to keep trying to move forward to fix it. This is how things began and progressed over the years.
Growing up I was always conscious about my weight in one way or another. I was bigger than the other kids in school and would often get called ‘fat’ if playground tittle-tattle occurred. I was always conscious of the fact I never really wore the same as the other kids. I had to get expensive shoes from Clarks as I had wide feet and older age girls summer dresses from George Henry Lee (anyone from the North West will remember that amazing department store!). All I wanted was to get the cheap shoes and dresses from the local market like everyone else had. In hindsight, I should have been grateful that I had better quality clothes and shoes but at the time all I wanted was to fit in.
I was also always aware that my mother didn’t eat much. She was an incredibly petite woman and used to often say how she was 6 stone when she got married. I would see her skip breakfast, lunch on Slim Fast drinks and eat little for dinner. I remember her saying she wanted my brother and I to have the little food we had (after my father had drank or gambled that weeks wages away) but looking back, both my brother and I were bigger than the other kids and it was probably because we were a little over fed. Again, in hindsight, if she really wanted to she could have eaten just as much as us but I don’t think she wanted to. I don’t know whether it’s a common Mum thing to eat so little or what, but I always think of that Peter Kay joke where he’s saying about Mums being on diets and never eating and saying ‘oh I had a Ryvita last week’. You could say I was exposed to disordered eating habits from a very young age.
As I got older I seemed to gain more weight. I won’t say I was absolutely enormous, but I was certainly overweight with more than a little puppy fat. I hid behind a ‘bubbly’ personality and I was always up for a laugh and joke – it was that old cruel jibe about ‘fat people always being funny’. Later in my teenage years I started going out more and drinking and that’s when I really packed some weight on. Again, I hid behind my personality and pretended I wasn’t bothered about my weight. I would often hear cruel remarks behind my back about my size but I tried to let them go. After all, I was bullied terribly in high school and despite it not being specifically about my weight, my weight would always come in to it at some point.
In 2002, when I was 18, I met my first (now ex) husband. He didn’t seem bothered about my weight but I stopped going out as much and therefore stopped drinking as much and lost a little weight. I didn’t really have an issue at this time but that was until a visit to the Family Planning Clinic to get the pill. I was there told by a nurse/advisor (whoever it was I saw) that I was ‘much too big’ and if I didn’t lose some weight in three months time she would not give me the pill again. I think I was about 11st 10lbs at that point which is obviously overweight on my 5’3″ frame. I remember feeling so humiliated. I laughed it off but I was absolutely crushed inside by her bluntness. I was almost in tears but didn’t let on. I think that’s when it really started. I was vegetarian at the time and began eating just one meal a day and suppressing my appetite with smoking and black coffee (I haven’t smoked in 11 years now!). Three months later I went back and it was the same woman. She looked at my notes and then looked me up and down and weighed me. I was 9st 4lbs. I left the clinic feeling smug and wanted to say a huge ‘up yours’ to her, but having seen how much weight I’d lost I wanted to lose some more. I was about a size UK14 at that point but I wanted to be a UK10. That was my magic number. Being that weight I would wear all the clothes I’d always wanted to, I would be confident, happier – a better person. If I could just get to a size 10 then life would be great! And so it really began.
I skipped breakfast, lunch was a Slim Fast shake and I had a small dinner. I would restrict all week to then have a blow out on a Friday night. Everything from pizza to party food and as many carbs as I could fit in, all washed down by bottles of wine. I would wake up the following day hungover and feeling ashamed and guilty about all of the calories I’d consumed and so would spend the following week restricting again. Surprisingly I didn’t seem to drop much more weight and settled at 8st 10lbs and a size UK10 for quite a while. Despite all my initial ideals about how amazing life would be at a size 10, it wasn’t to be. I hid my wobbly bits and my stretch marks from earlier weight gain/growing up so never wore all the clothes I imagined I would. My confidence dropped more through a combination of personal issues as well as the disordered eating pattern I was now following.
In 2006 I fell pregnant with my eldest son and was determined to get healthy and eat properly and leave behind the disordered eating I had started. I quit smoking, started having breakfast again and stopped restricting food. However, I saw it as a bit of a hall pass to eat what I wanted and by the time he was born I had gained almost 4 stone. I’d never felt more disgusting. I lost 2 stone just by delivering him as he was a large baby and I was also carrying a significant amount of fluid but, despite the 2 stone of excess weight I was left with, I was determined to keep eating normally to nourish my body as I was breastfeeding. It took me 11 months to naturally lose the rest of the weight and get back to 8st 10lbs but it didn’t seem good enough for me. Shortly after, at the end of 2007, I was due to marry my first (now ex) husband and the stress of things got to me. I lost another few lbs and dropped another dress size and had to buy a new wedding dress, which was a size UK8 (albeit the top end of that size measurements wise). I actually felt really good about myself, but then a nasty comment was made along the lines of how I could have lost some weight for the big day and how fat I looked in my wedding photos. Mortified, it was like a switch flicked overnight and again the disordered eating started – but this time it was coupled with exercise.
At the beginning of 2008 I started doing home DVD workouts. I remember that Natalie Cassidy (AKA Sonia from Eastenders!) had just shrunk down from a size 16 to a 6 and brought a DVD out a week or so earlier around Christmas. I thought ‘well if she can do it then so can I!’ I began doing it every day. Breakfast was once again skipped and lunch was a good old Slim Fast shake again. I don’t recall what I started with in terms of dinner but I remember getting to the point where I was having one of those veggie Mexican bean burgers (literally just the patty, nothing else) and from there I went to having just a bowl of 100g green beans which was about 29 calories if I remember rightly. Apart from the DVD, I also began doing Pilates DVD’s and started cycling and also bought an exercise bike. I was in a downward spiral. I would spend early mornings before my son got up cycling or sat on the exercise bike going flat out for 22 miles whilst watching episodes of Supersize vs Superskinny and wishing I was that thin too. Sometimes I would skip the Slim Fast shake for lunch and fill up on black coffee and other times I would force myself to have it. If my ex-husband made the shake for me I would tip it away and make it myself as I was utterly convinced he was putting additional scoops – and therefore additional calories – into the mix. I would do fitness DVD’s at lunchtime and prepare my own ‘meals’ of steamed green beans for dinner. This was my life every day of the week. I felt guilty if I had time off from exercise and my life and plans revolved around it. All of a sudden I was 7stone 10lbs. I was a size UK6, but the goal posts moved again. I wanted to just be a few lbs lighter.
My marriage began suffering. There were other causes as well as the disordered eating trap and exercise addiction I had found myself in, but it all added fuel to my fire and at one point I reached a UK4, the elusive American size zero. I would get furious with stores for not stocking my dress size. I was grumpy a lot. My periods became erratic and stopped for months on end. My hair started coming out in clumps. My skin was dry and cracked and my scalp flaky. I was exhausted and looked grey no matter how much fake tan I slapped on. I suffered with angular cheilitis on both sides of my mouth for months and months on end which was incredibly painful, not to mention unsightly and embarrassing. I suffered with palpitations and chest pains on a daily basis and would often worry that I was going to have a heart attack. I had black rings under my eyes no matter how much Touché Eclat I layered on. Even the outer portion of my eyebrows fell out, my teeth felt loose and my gums began to recede. The thing that upset me most though was my hair. I had always had lots of lovely long, dark hair and now it was lank strands with diffuse thinning all over. I couldn’t wear it tied up as my hairline was receding and I felt like I looked like Skeletor. I searched the internet in desperation. Back and forth to the GP, all while hiding my eating and exercise habits. I was told it was simply telogen effluvium and nothing could be done. Devastated, I began eating a little more and exercising less in the hope it would grow back.
In 2008 I started volunteering and went back to college the year later. Exercising stopped as I simply didn’t have the time. I started paying more attention to having a life. Things were much better and I gained some weight back. My hair never really recovered but after a couple of years the drastic loss slowed down. Then my marriage ended and I started uni and training to become an ODP at the same time. I felt out of control and the niggling thoughts and worries in the back of my mind about my weight and appearance soon came plummeting back. I felt in order to gain some sense of control in my life back, I would lose some weight and feel better about myself.
I downloaded My Fitness Pal, I tracked everything that passed my lips. Everything I had to eat was weighed and portioned meticulously. I would dread birthdays or celebrations or simply just acts of kindness at work when treats were brought in as I would feel out of control and end up gorging on cakes and sweets before feeling guilty and ashamed during my 90 minute commute home. I would have on average 800-880 calories per day whilst getting up at 5am, commuting for 90 minutes to work to do a 10-12 hour shift and 90 minute commute home, as well as coursework, exams, assignments on top of being a Mum and running a household. My daily intake consisted of porridge made with skimmed milk and a couple of black coffees for breakfast, a small portion of soup and a couple of oatcakes with an apple for lunch and then if I didn’t skip dinner I would have a Slim Fast meal bar in the car on the way home and take the entire journey to finish it.
In 2012 I began a relationship with my (current – amazing) husband and I would try and make up for all the meals out together by restricting on other days of the week. It wasn’t really hard for me to eat so little. I never had an appetite and never really wanted food anyway. It got to the point that food was a means to an end for me – just something to basically stop me from dropping dead! I thought I was fat enough and didn’t want to gain any more weight so just kept my calories low. I was a small UK6 and although I still had some wobbly bits, I had bones jutting out of my collarbone and hips. I tried to relax a bit more about food and after a few conversations with my (now) husband I decided that being vegetarian was doing me no good after about 16 years and started to eat fish again. It was soon followed by meat and I stopped tracking things so much in My Fitness Pal. I still never ate a great deal when I wasn’t with my husband (then boyfriend) but it was just normal to me and I didn’t think I had a problem as such. In fact, I didn’t think I had a problem at all.
Despite my erratic periods which turned up for about half an hour every few months I soon fell pregnant with our youngest son. I vowed that I would eat well and gain the recommended amount of weight. I found that I was actually craving all the foods I’d developed an irrational fear of – sandwiches, crisps, pizza and generally anything carb related! I think it was when I turned up to work with a load of crumpets and peanut butter for lunch that colleagues guessed I was pregnant as they’d got so used to seeing me with ‘green soup’ day in, day out, for the previous few years.
I gained the recommended 2 stone during that pregnancy and with breastfeeding and somehow sheer luck (as I was eating chocolate bars and cakes on a daily basis post-natally seeing this period as a free hall pass to have ‘time off’ from the constant dieting), I’d lost all but 1lb of that weight after 4 weeks and the last lb came off a fortnight later. Breastfeeding seemed to take everything out of me this time and my weight kept plummeting – even more so after a personal family crisis which caused me to lose my appetite with worry and stress. The following year in 2015, I went for a course of CBT to help deal with my issues, in addition to the cleaning OCD I had, but the practitioner seemed to focus more on the cleaning side of things rather than my low self-esteem and whilst it helped a little at the time, the exercises soon became another normal habit and seemed to stop working. By the time my son self weaned from breastfeeding at 10 months I’d gone back to being really skinny and gaunt looking. I was underweight at under 7 stone with a low BMI. I felt breathless just going for a walk with the pushchair, I was tired all the time and my hair was pouring out again. I kidded myself that I was meant to be this small (and indeed I wanted to remain that small) but then the palpitations and dizziness and headaches started again and I correlated this with my low weight. In a panic, I started eating more and accepted all the lovely treats my husband kept bringing home. I’d soon gained enough weight back to JUST reach an acceptable weight for my height, but still felt really unfit. I took up running with the Couch to 5k program and after three months of beginning it I ran my first 10km in under an hour. Soon I was running at least 6.5km every other day in just over half an hour and regular 10kms. The weight was falling off me again and I started controlling my food again – I don’t know why. My self esteem had dropped after a few personal issues and I was fixated on being thin because I thought thin was beautiful and if I felt unhappy at the weight I was then surely losing some weight would make me feel good like it used to. My husband and I were engaged, we had two amazing sons and things were generally good, but I still felt the need to control SOMETHING and it always fell back to my weight. As well as the running, I began doing daily fitness DVD’s again in the run up to our wedding and drinking protein shakes – but instead of using them as a supplement, I was using them as a meal replacement.
We married in the summer of 2015 and although I still look back fondly on our wedding photos, at the time I thought I looked so fat and I felt quite embarrassed that I hadn’t put in enough effort to lose weight to look good for our big day. At the end of that year I fell pregnant again, but sadly suffered a miscarriage. I was convinced it was my fault because I’d been exercising too much and not eating properly and I tore myself up about it.
Since then I’ve had ups and downs with my low self esteem and my weight. I’ve obsessed about tracking every calorie consumed on My Fitness Pal, I’ve over exercised to the point of exhaustion to get my weight low enough for certain events so I didn’t feel ‘fat’ or ‘bloated’, I’ve secretly taken diuretics and laxatives again – you name, I’ve done it! But then something happened.
Last Autumn, I came across a book by Mel Wells called The Goddess Revolution. I read it in a matter of days and it felt like I had written every line myself. It was reassuring to see I wasn’t the only one who had suffered with those thoughts, feelings and obligations to rituals for years on end. I won’t say the book cured me, as I still have a long way to go, but I feel it was certainly a turning point for me. I became more relaxed about things and ditched all the tracking apps. Weighing myself daily became once a week or maybe fortnight. Calorie counting stopped. For the first Christmas in so many years, I ate and drank what I liked without worrying (too much) about gaining weight. I lessened my exercise regime and relaxed more.
That’s where we are now. I’m struggling some days to come to terms with the weight I’m gaining and how my new figure looks. Some days I feel sad that I don’t have a thigh gap anymore, others I like my big, strong legs which carry me where I want to go and keep me moving. Some days I wish I could suppress my appetite like I used to be able to and others I enjoy eating anything and everything. Some days I feel like I look bloated and my face really round, others I think I look healthier and alive. I have somehow managed to reset my appetite and find that I get hungry every couple of hours now so make sure I eat. I’m not counting calories, but if I thought about it I’m probably having around twice what my body requires naturally at this weight. I’m still exercising 5/6 days a week but I’m running only once and for short distances (as I know regular running causes me to drop weight) and the rest of the time I’m mixing it up and only doing around 20 minutes just to give me an endorphin boost to lift my mood. I don’t feel that I NEED to workout on a daily basis now, I do it to give me a boost and because I enjoy it and want to maintain my fitness. I don’t feel as guilty as I did when I take a rest day, although there is a slight niggle there. I need to really work on my self love, self confidence and self worth though as that’s something I’ve always hugely struggled with. But, I am a work in progress and I know if I’ve been able to come this far, then I’ll be able to go even further.