Like many women, I’ve had a complicated relationship with food.
Looking back I can now say that, between the ages of 19 and 21, I floated somewhere between anorexia and orthorexia. I kept a ‘food diary’ under my bed where I would log what I ate every day, coupled with embarrassing and darkly hilarious comments like “I really fucking hated my arms in that top today”, or “legs looked… alright… I think?”. On the cover was a sheet of graph paper where I would mark in red pen how much I weighed week on week. There was one rule: to plateau was inexcusable.
Without dipping too much into the enthusiastic methods I used (they were very unglamorous) I will tell you I spent an entire summer living off hard-boiled eggs, rice crackers, and Pepsi Max. And I was starving all the bloody time. The hunger was so intense I’d take myself to bed and binge watch Breaking Bad for hours to quash the pangs. At my worst, I’d be asleep at 8pm, so ravenous and self-loathing I’d be tingling with excitement at the thought of having my measly breakfast in 12 hours time.
Since seeing a psychologist I’ve connected the dots. Some really confusing shit happened within these years and I looked to food to control it all; I thought that if I had power over the way my body looked, the powerlessness I had in other situations wouldn’t feel so suffocating.
This was, of course, foolish. My disordered eating didn’t give me more control at all; it filled my mind with harmful bullshit – and, depressingly, a lot of the information I stored in those years still lingers today. Dolly Alderton writes about that in her book Everything I Know About Love, which I finished on the weekend and highly recommend to anyone in their 20s. Women who have a complex history with eating will relate to what Alderton laments: you can’t just forget the things you once obsessed about. You’ll always remember how many calories are in a chocolate bar. You’ll always, on some level, add up the numbers in your head before eating the meal on your plate. You carry those toxic thoughts with you everywhere you go.
God, I wish I could forget some of the stuff I committed to memory.
It’s like a fog you can blow away in your strongest moments, thank god, but when you’re weak and tired and vulnerable? The fog can take over, if only for a meal, a day, or a week.
I made a “recovery” without outside intervention – not eating enough made me grumpy and exhausted all the time and I was sick of pushing the people I loved away. I had completely lost all the parts of me that made me feel womanly and I missed those, too. I guess I woke up one morning and just decided, Enough. Enough, enough, enough.
Now, my eating habits are the best they’ve been in a really long time. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner without fail. I exercise regularly. I am strong and fit. I don’t chastise myself for eating a cookie or having a big bowl of ice cream. Still, some days I lapse into old habits. I still have packets of laxatives and diet pills in my bedside drawer. I haven’t touched them in a year, but no “recovery” is clean cut like we might wish it to be; recovery is really just a start line with a never-ending series of hurdles. You always need to keep running and jumping and spinning and twirling away from the clutches of the disease that once dug its tentacles into your flesh and melted your tissue away.
But to keep the bad thoughts at bay, to keep the upper hand, I also know I will never, ever, ever weigh myself again.
Ever. (No, seriously. EVER.)
I just can’t. I haven’t weighed myself since I was in the clutches of my disorder three years ago. I can’t bring myself to know the numbers again. As soon as numbers are involved, the compulsive side of my mind takes over, willing the number to be smaller and smaller.
It’s ludicrous, but hey – mental illness doesn’t always make sense. It’s all ludicrous and odd and that’s just how it is.
The trainers at my gym recently approached me to do a free body composition test – where they take skin folds and figure out your body fat percentage. And oh goodness I was so, SO tempted to do it. I go to the gym four to five times a week, and I wanted to know if I was ‘balanced’; if my legs and arms and belly are all ‘acceptable’ by my gym’s standards. I was curious to know if I needed to… focus… on any particular place. I looked at all the other people in the queue and weighed up the pros and cons in my mind.
After standing in the line for a moment, I walked away. It was like I could see the slippery slope, the tentacles, the fog, the fucked-up-ness of it all ahead of me. I’m so glad that’s the decision I made.
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I'm already so sick of this "summer body" and "lose five kilos to wear a bikini" bullshit. NO. No no no a million cajillion twenty zillion times NO. I do not need to drink laxatives to wear a fucking bikini, thanks mate. This summer I want to just enjoy exercise and eating healthily for my mental wellbeing (*cough* sanity), not for toning my bum or box gap or kidney or whatever the eff the latest trend is. You put on a bikini, you have a bikini body. Simple as that. #girlpower #ihatepootea
Truthfully, I plan on never stepping on a set of scales again. Not now, not when I’m 83. I don’t want a number attached to my body. I like standing in front of my bedroom mirror in my underwear and thinking “I am happy” instead of “I wonder how my tummy would look if I lost another kilo.”
I am happy with my body just as it is. I really, truly am.
I love my body because it is a healthy body. I love my body because it includes my mind. I love that I can run and jump and leap and push and think and create and argue and imagine and do.
And that’s all that matters, really.