I’m bored. It’s a Friday night and I’m at home watching an episode of CSI. A woman is being held in a dark, damp cellar, her limbs bound, mouth taped shut. As she wriggles for her life, the thought actually crosses my mind that all the trauma aside, if I was ever kidnapped, at least I might drop a couple of dress sizes! I mean look, this woman can’t open a fridge, something I’ve been in an endless debate about since inhaling my "fist-sized" salmon steak and side of broccoli twenty minutes ago.
It’s only 8pm. I have at least fours hours until my body will agree to sleep and I don’t want to read, reply to e-mails, or watch a Panda sneeze on YouTube. All I want to do is eat. I could phone a friend, but none of them will hear my call over the drunken roar at Taco Loco, where tonight, they are gathered around the Nacho Platter, sharing their latest news and no doubt creating more, courtesy of the two-for-one Mojitos.
Of course I should be out with them, but I’m not allowed. That’s because last year, through diet, exercise and talking about it incessantly, I lost 100 pounds, and I’m desperately trying to keep it that way.
A week ago, out grocery shopping, I bumped into Kathy, a woman I’d meet at an old slimming group seven years ago. Kathy had known me at my heaviest of 250 pounds. I was 26, I waddled and I would lie in bed at night and imagine slicing off my fat with a carving knife.
"You must feel amazing!" Kathy said, looking at me as if I’d just stepped out of a fairy-tale, to which I smiled, and told her all the things that she expected to hear and that I’d expected to feel. It hurt to lie, but the dairy aisle wasn’t the place for a heart-to-heart, and so I left Kathy with a sense of fresh hope, and she left me an e-mail address to send on my diet plan.
If I’d told Kathy the truth, I’d probably have lead with the words "frustrated," "terrorised," "hungry" and "bored," because although there are many things I love about being slim such as respect, skinny jeans and consideration from the opposite sex, if I get fat again, they’ll disappear, and that makes me want a cream horn more than ever!
I got fat around eight. Adults called it "puppy fat," but I didn’t believe them. My Mum was fat, so mine was actual fat. Fat was my fate. By eleven I was on my first diet, and by my mid-teens, I was 210 pounds and four years into a loop of comfort eating and dieting.
My place in life was on the sidelines, an observer, cheering on my friends as they played the games I wasn’t picked for. It was fine. It was just my punishment for being fat and I was convinced that if I lost weight life would become fun. I’d have a stronger currency to trade with, one that would buy me lots of sunny first dates in beer gardens and surprise city breaks to Berlin and Barcelona. I’d be able to whip on a summer dress and go frolic in dandelion spray. I’d have a neat body, no extra baggage to manage; at a wedding, no stomach to check into industry strength Lycra knickers – the kind that roll down and give you yet another roll to worry about! I’d feel for myself the power and the choice afforded to the beautiful. And above all else, I’d be happy.
I lost weight using a high-protein, calorie-controlled diet of my own. I also worked with a personal trainer in an all-you-can-exercise set up, where for a set fee, I could do as many sessions a week as I could handle, approaching exercise with the same determination I would a pan-Asian buffet – I would not be beaten! In one session, I remember being put on a Stairmaster, in a 20-pound sweat-vest. Swallowing back the tears, gulping for breath, the only way I got through those twenty minutes, was by pretending I was on the Stairmaster equivalent of the bus in Speed – basically if I stopped climbing, the whole gym would explode.
Eventually, after a year in hibernation, day after day of porridge, grilled chicken, squats, lunges, upright rows and planking, I hit my goal – in fact 10 pounds past it.
Reaching my target was always meant to feel like some rite of passage from unhappy fat person to happy thin one. However, I don’t even remember it. What should have been a moment to pat myself on the back was probably spent with my arse to the mirror, hitching up the flesh at the top of my thighs and dropping it back down with a sigh. Basically, because I still didn’t look like a nineteen year old hitting a volleyball in a Gillette ad, I wasn’t "there" yet, and it wasn’t okay to stop. However, despite all my efforts, I was losing at most a half-pound a week or nothing at all.
Living with my parents, I’d storm into the kitchen each morning and throw my porridge into the microwave as my Dad would again try to tell me that I was actually looking "quite skinny and gaunt."
"What do you mean?" I would snap, gathering up the two small pockets of flesh at the top of my thighs. "If I don’t have any more weight to lose, then what’s this!? This is not normal! This doesn’t have to be there!"
"What’s normal?" was always his next question, but I was always too hungry to get into it.
The fact is, I’m a pear-shape, and as I carried on trying for "normal-sized" thighs, my breasts became concave, my face sunken, and arms stringy. I didn’t want to stop losing weight, but my body did, and eventually I conceded, slowly accepting that I’d never look like the girl selling razor blades on the telly, and if I carried on trying, I might lose my sanity – I’d already lost my periods.
The thing with dieting is that it does nothing to remove the desire to overeat in the first place. With my appetite in a temporary stranglehold, even after losing the weight, the idea of starting to eat normally again and socialising felt so risky that I found it easier to continue to diet. Ironically, this meant I was turning down more invitations to go out than I had when I was fat.
I remember my first big meal out, it was for my birthday and in the week leading up to it, the amount of time I spent on the Internet reading reviews, anyone would have thought I was in the market for a used car, not a posh cheeseburger. But, if I was going to eat food I’d only dreamed about for a year, it had to be perfect.
The first affront to my "perfect meal out" was my bun, which was overly crusty. Next was the mayo, which I had to ask for twice, meaning my fries were lukewarm when I finally got around to dunking them. Our table had a wobbly leg and there was drunk cackling a few tables down. Amazingly, I could go on.
As my friends chatted away, leaving half their fries, I continued to stab mine into puddles of mayo and ketchup, in an attempt to eat myself happy. We didn’t order dessert, but when I got home, I had a triple helping of yoghurt, not because I was hungry, I just felt unsatisfied, and whilst the window was open, I might as well make the most of my freedom.
After a day’s grace, I got on the scales: I’d put on 2.5 pounds, and panicking at my weight gain and loss of control, I then spent the next two weeks firmly back on a diet, before my next night out.
It wasn’t and it still doesn’t feel fun.
If possible, I actually think about food even more now than I did before. What I put in my mouth and when has become a complex equation of maintaining my new weight, making sure I see my friends, compensating for a love of red wine and micro-managing my emotions. Although I knew a diet wouldn’t take away my urge to plug the void with cookie dough, I had hoped a new body might cancel out the need. I imagined being so pleased and at peace with myself, that a croissant might just become a croissant again, and not a substitute for happiness. However, inconveniently, I still find a croissant a more reliable source of happiness than anything I can generate from the way I look or feel. However, now I can’t have one!
Okay, I can have the occasional croissant, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Boredom, longing and existential despair don’t drop-in once a fortnight, they are feelings that bubble up all day long, constantly reminding me of the relief, however temporary, to be found in the buttery folds of a flaky pastry.
These days, I fend off the urge to eat all day long with a constant stream of diet soda and sugar-free gum, but this isn’t a lasting solution and like a ticking time bomb I worry that someday soon I might explode and make a big fat mess again.
In retrospect, the real goal behind losing weight was freedom from an obsession with food. That’s a big order, but a healthier, relationship to food must start with a healthier relationship to my body. One based neither on stuffing it, nor starving it to meet an unrealistic ideal.
I realise now that I dieted myself into a corner. I got down to a weight I couldn’t realistically maintain, and as I did finally let up, I put back on 20 pounds.
It was six months ago that, disgusted at this, I decided I was going to clear my social calendar and diet solidly for a month. I was going to up the gym from three times a week to six, and I was going to get off the Tube four stops early everyday and power-walk the forty minutes to and from work.
It was on day five that, ten minutes into my walk home, I decided to jump on a bus and go meet my friends instead. It was the idea of another evening of grilled chicken and the gym, I couldn’t source the motivation, because this time around, I couldn’t see the payoff.
When I was trying to become the "Gillette girl," every step along London’s Euston Road was to a better future, and the promise of happiness. However, this time around, it was just a long, unpleasant walk along a polluted road to a playlist full of misogynistic lyrics. It was boring and it pissed me off that I felt I had to do it at all.
It’s not as if I put anything to bed that day, but what’s the point of being thin if you feel like a prisoner in your own body, spending life trying to outrun nature on a treadmill? Yes, it’s great to attend a party exquisitely slim, but what’s fun about turning down a baby quiche when you’re starving?
However, although I may have opted for the freedom to order a cheeseburger over a gap between my thighs, it’s still a decision I have to live so the question becomes, how can I have my cake, eat it and not hate myself after?
When I was 250 pounds I wanted to shake women like me, women who were torturing themselves over an extra 10 pounds. A survey conducted in 2007 by New Woman magazine revealed that 97% of women think a size 12 is too fat. This is sad, but as Paul Campos argues in the The Obesity Myth, we are living in a state of "anorexic ideation," that being "the tendency to interpret the world through an anorexic lens."
As he puts it, the body I have been "acculturated to want," is not genetically available to 99% of the people who want it, so picking some "perfect weight" based on images in the media, is nuts. What makes more sense is picking a healthy, varied, enjoyable diet, and accepting that the weight I end up at is my perfect weight – one I can maintain without dieting. That’s easier said than done, but what’s the alternative? Spending my life in a fight with my body?
Today I woke up heavier than I expected. It’s a Saturday, the sun is out and tonight is a friend’s birthday dinner. Life is good, but all this is clouded by the fact I weighed two pounds heavier. I’ve already run through a batch of excuses for skipping my friend’s birthday. However, when I actually did that on my Dad’s birthday to avoid the calories in a Chinese, that night, alone at home, I decided I would rather be fat than live like this. So I will go tonight, I will celebrate my friend’s birthday and spend my evening concentrating on the conversation rather than the calories!