As some of you will have read in my blog The good, the bad and the hungry, I’ve had a chequered relationship with food since my late 20s. For years I ping ponged between all or nothing extremes, including an unhealthy dependence on slimming clubs. My 40s saw me finally lose weight - and keep it off - but lately I’ve been worried that I’m going backwards and I want to understand why I’m letting myself down so badly. For example, some weeks I behave as though I want to derail my progress as much as possible just so that I can make a ‘fresh start’ the following Monday. I regularly ‘spoil’ healthy habits for myself, and feel I can’t start ‘being good again’ until I'm unhappy with the way I look and feel, rather than just being more moderate to avoid having to summon the monumental effort it takes to diet in the first place. Maybe I’m overthinking things by trying to psycho-analyse this and should just learn to live with the fact that at times, I have an overwhelming compulsion to eat too much. But there must be more to it than that.
Why do we eat until we feel uncomfortable? Why do we work so hard on our exercise to then knowingly spoil it for ourselves?
I know there are more important things than how we look, but having experienced life through both lenses, for me my physical appearance is an important part of feeling good about myself. Unable to break the cycle I've got myself in, this week I’ve taken some positive action and for the first time in many years, started keeping a food diary which lists every single thing I’ve eaten or drank and its calorific value. I’m finding it quite empowering and incredibly simple, and I’ve gone a step further by downloading My Fitness Pal. What I forgot was that this isn’t the first time I’ve used it, and logging into the app brought up all my old details from my last attempt to get to a healthy weight in 2014. I felt sad when I saw my old profile photo, my starting weight of almost 14 stone, and a list of all the nasty foods I used to eat so regularly. I just didn't have the motivation to heal myself back then. But I do now.
"What I found on the app was a stark reminder of how far I’ve come, and what awaits me if I keep undoing all of my hard work."
Although I don’t know what I currently weigh because I don’t own scales and I daren’t use someone else's for fear of what they’ll tell me, what I found on the app was a stark reminder of how far I’ve come, and what awaits me if I keep undoing all of my hard work. So I continue to remind myself of the person I used to be. Someone who was deeply unhappy with her appearance. Someone who was tired all the time and whose back constantly ached and regularly packed in completely. Someone who loved parties but never felt beautiful when she dressed up for them. And someone who felt extremes of shame or elation every time she stepped on the scales, as if they had some mystical power over me. But it’s strange how sometimes all of this life experience is still not enough to keep me on track.
I saw one of those cheesy sayings earlier this week. It’s something that’s sat on one of my Pinterest boards for several years, but for some reason it really resonated this time. It was: Visualize your highest self, then start showing up as her. It’s made me think about things differently. I mean, would my highest self eat a whole packet of Bourbons just because they were there? Would she eat the last two pieces of garlic bread, even though she was bursting at the seams? Would she cook and eat enough pasta to feed the whole street, just because she couldn’t be arsed measuring it out? No, she bloody well wouldn’t. Whichever version of myself I am, I deserve more than being the old me.
Of all the challenges I’ve faced, my relationship with exercise and nutrition is definitely up there with the hardest. If you can relate to this, whatever your age, I empathise, and I understand your struggle. If it helps, I believe that every setback brings a valuable lesson, which helps us evolve and get closer to the version of ourselves we want to be. We deserve respect for trying hard to make positive changes to our health while running a home, working and/or parenting and when life can get pretty overwhelming.
For those of us with an unhealthy relationship with food, this is a lifelong battle, but it’s one I’m determined to win.
I’d love to hear from anyone who feels they’ve cracked the code around overeating or just wants to share their perspective. Please comment below.