May Contain Fewer Zs
Please join us in welcoming our newest blogging candidate, Chelle. She will be submitting three guest posts before we vote on her inclusion.
Trigger warning: Discussion of multiple weight loss attempts.
I hate my story. I find it simultaneously boring and complex and, more than that, I’m always worried about coming across as whinging. It’s been a long 32 years. A lot of shit’s gone down, in the words of Jay-Z (probably), most of which I could legitimately claim perpetuated my poor relationship with food and with my body. Have you ever found yourself inadvertently in a game of “Crap that’s Happened to Me Top Trumps” with somebody? I hold all the damn cards in that game to the point where it starts to sound like I am making it all up.
Hell, if I were on the hatefest that is The Biggest Loser they’d have a hard time working out what to use for my Biggest Loser Moment. The producers could chose from loss of a father in childhood, alcoholic step-parent, poverty, emotionally abusive relationship from a young age, teenage pregnancy, divorce, single parenthood and a catalogue of familial deaths.
That’s that out of the way.
Actually, there’s been loads of good in my life too, and the important thing you need to know is that right now I live in a beautiful house on the south coast of England with three fabulous sons (12, 10 and 2) and my exceptionally-lovely husband, who is the most kind and supportive person I have ever met. Our first dance song at our wedding four years ago was “Halo” by Beyonce and, although I am not even slightly religious or superstitious, I sometimes find myself wondering whether he’s an actual angel (right up until he starts trying to sing, obviously). It would be really neat if my journey into Health at Every Size® (HAES) fitted in with meeting him, but it doesn’t, that started slightly earlier.I’m one of us who has been fat pretty much all my life. I was eight when my dad died, but I started getting a little chubby before then and, frankly, I probably would have gotten fat whether he’d died or not. My mum is fat, and her mum, and hers. I can’t really remember when my fatness was not a problem. Even when people referred to it as “puppy fat,” I was acutely aware that I was too old for that to be an excuse.
My mother was constantly on diets and the house was always littered with Slimming magazine and the like; before/after photo spreads were virtually our wallpaper. It was “natural” that I would go on a diet early. Mum would devise plans for me, sometimes complete with cute, little stickers or bits of paper in a box, and we’d talk endlessly about food. When she remarried, my step-father turned out to be a jealous drinker and our little mother-daughter diet conversations represented some of the only time we spent together. We’d either be plotting our weight loss or sneaking off for plates of chips (fries) and cake; sometimes at the same time. Naturally, we both just got fatter. Of course, my mother didn’t really need to lose weight, she just wanted to get away from her terrible relationship and when I was 15 she finally did. Sadly, she immediately filled the hole with another partner, and so did I.
My first marriage was rubbish. Looking back, I don’t recognise the person who let herself be treated so shoddily so consistently over that near-decade. He was a shitbag, quite honestly (and still is). Over that time I learnt that I was fat, lazy, smelly, embarrassing to be seen with, undesirable to everyone, miserable, sexually unattractive and completely hopeless. His family helpfully confirmed this.
We all know how abusive relationships work — that crumbs or approval are thrown and gobbled up gratefully. And, of course, I was convinced that the whole thing would be fine if only I could just get thin. Narrative-wise it would be great if I could now go on to say that I “tried everything,” but (boringly) I’ve never been on a fad diet. It was always calorie counting for me and (remember, this was still the early days of the internet) I was proud of my ability to speak calories like another language.In a way, the “sensible” nature with which I approached weight loss probably added to the problem; I could never blame Mr. Atkins or whoever, and calories in/calories out seemed so foolproof and obvious. I must be a special sort of failure. None of my diets allowed me more than 1,500 calories, though; mum had dubiously taught me that 1,000-1,200 calories was about right for weight loss.
This whole time I never once actually got thin. I ranged from a UK dress size 16 to 22, with the overall trajectory going up, of course.
Aged twenty-five and good stuff started to happen: I divorced my shitty husband, took my two lovely boys, and went back to university. I spent the next couple of years picking up a lot of feminism, a whole heap of self-esteem, and a first-class degree in sociology and English. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t disclose that I managed to find time to slot in another damaging relationship. He was clear that he wanted me to lose weight and it prompted one of my most “successful” diets ever (I bought some skirts in a UK 14 and started to actually feel thin).The weight loss didn’t last and neither did the boyfriend. No matter, because I was about to have my Big Bang moment.
Like many of us, my first introduction to the idea of anything to do with HAES came in the form of a book. For me it was Fat is a Feminist Issue (FIFI) by Susie Orbach. FIFI is problematic in many ways: it was written in the 1970s, it’s very centred on women, it barely mentions exercise, and it doesn’t actually explain how to eat intuitively. It was the first time, however, that I had even heard about the set point theory, or been introduced to the idea that our bodies might actually know what they are doing. In that way it was revolutionary.Since FIFI’s publication, Orbach issued a very small book called On Eating that lays out in “Keys” the basics of intuitive eating: eat when you are hungry, eat the food your body is hungry for, find out why you eat when you aren’t hungry, taste every mouthful, stop eating the moment you are full. I highly recommend it. You can read it in an hour and revisit it when you need some support. Sadly, however, we have a hypnotist (read: douchebag) in the UK called Paul McKenna, who by some sheer weight of coincidence has produced a book almost identical to Orbach’s called I Can Make You Thin. He’s replaced the bit about finding out why you emotionally eat with some wank about tapping, but otherwise it’s more or less the same, and since my mum has only read his book, she still insists on calling my approach to eating “that Paul McKenna thing” before changing the subject to calories. (Incidentally, McKenna published a book last year called Hypnotic Gastric Band – what a douche).
Anyway, we’re still in 2009 and I’ve just read FIFI. Calling this a “Big Bang” perhaps fails to reflect the fact that, although I gave intuitive eating a good go, I was tempted back into dieting for my wedding (to the lovely guy) the following year. Although I was genuinely convinced that listening to my body was a positive, lifelong move, I still thought it would definitely mean I’d lose weight and, with my wedding booked, that just wasn’t happening fast enough. I’d even ordered the dress in a couple of sizes smaller.
Of all my diets over the years, all those times where I’ve potentially fucked up my insulin resistance and reset my set point, I regret that last one the most. I got married in a size 16 dress, which had to be taken in, and when I slid into it on the morning of my wedding day, my mum gazed at me and said “Oh, you look like a slim person” as if that’s all she ever wanted. I wasn’t slim, I was a small fat person, but I’d temporarily reduced myself enough that when I look back at the photographs now, I feel like it was a lie. I managed to keep the weight off throughout my third pregnancy (which began a few weeks after our wedding day), but as soon as our son was born I hit the biscuits and gained another three dress sizes or so.My littlest man is two and a half now and I would say that I have been practising intuitive eating for about a year. My progress hasn’t been linear. It’s not yet natural. I definitely don’t give myself enough of a break when things go “wrong.” I am a perfectionist and it is hard for me not to throw my hands in the air and give up when I can’t tick all the boxes. The difference this time, though, is twofold: 1) I have the support of my beautiful husband who, as a fat man himself, is learning to embrace HAES, which means I always have somebody to talk to openly and to be kind to me when I struggle to be kind to myself; and 2) I have you guys, this blog, other blogs, Facebook pages, Tumblr, books, YouTube, and a whole army of HAESers who reassure me that this journey is fruitful, sound, and the right choice.
I’ve got a long way to go. I haven’t quite finished mourning the loss of my Fantasy of Being Thin (I was heavily into that: I wrote essays, plotted graphs, drew pictures; it was like a love affair). I want to learn to accept my body, particularly to dress it the way I want to. And I absolutely need to embrace movement (more on that in another blog post). On the plus side (and I think it’s a plus for me personally at this time), I have absolutely no desire to know how much I weigh and I haven’t a clue how many calories I eat. I am positive about the future and I am so excited about being part of this blog.And since I am English: I’m Chelle, how do you do?