I wish I were as fat as the I was the first time I thought I was fat. (Thanks www.someecards.com)
The first time I thought I was fat I was a size 14. Yes. A 14. It was my first year at Uni and, up until then, it was the biggest I’d ever been. To set the scene – I’m 5ft11” and a pretty sturdy build. I’m big, I’m tall and a 14 on me looks like a 12 on most other people. Up until I left sixth form I was a 12, and I looked pretty damned good in it. I possessed the most precious of all the gifts that are wasted on the young, a high metabolism, and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and still look hot. I was also intrinsically lazy, and as such never learned how to keep fit and slim.
Once I hit university I discovered alcohol. Oh, I’d discovered it long before that, of course, I mean, this is Britain after all. However, I was equipped with a series of crippling fears when I was younger, a lot of which hung on until, well, until this year actually. They were very strong, particularly, and most enduringly, the Fear of Sick. I was absolutely terrified of the thought of throwing up, or of anyone throwing up near me. This extended to seeing people on TV throw up, and even hearing stories about people who might have, once in their lives, thrown up. It got so bad that I once, when about 13 years old, begged my next door neighbour to let me spend the summer holidays with her because the thought of getting on a ferry to France and getting inevitably seasick filled me with such revulsion and fear that I couldn’t sleep, I developed weird eating habits and I felt sick every day because I could think about nothing else. I used to avoid eating meals that were too big in case they made me feel sick. I refused to eat eggs or chicken because I was convinced they were going to give me food poisoning – a fear only exacerbated when I took the Basic Food Hygiene course at age 16 (spoiler: everything can and will kill you, but only after making you horrifically, ruinatiously sick).
I had a routine when travelling in cars – I’d put my headphones on, listening only to music I already knew, nothing new, and refuse to speak to, listen to, or even acknowledge anyone, whilst praying silently that I wouldn’t throw up. I used to measure journeys in tapes (I know, I know, I’m ANCIENT) and refuse to consume anything but dry toast and water before getting in the car. This was probably because of the time I threw up croissants, melted cheese and dandelion & burdock in our brand new Rover. I still seriously hate Rovers. Trains were the only method of transport I considered “safe” as they didn’t generally make me feel sick, and if we were travelling for more than half an hour by any other medium I would spend my days thinking up creative excuses to get me out of going, even if the destination was somewhere I really, really wanted to go. In my mind the end did not justify the means.
It never occurred to me, at this point, that this wasn’t normal. I knew that other people didn’t have a problem with throwing up, but I think I just assumed that everyone felt that way about something, but for some it was heights or snakes, or some other reasonable threat. It never occurred to me that this was a phobia, an excessive, obsessive phobia that had literally taken over my life. Of course, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one phobia, oh no, I cultivated two or three others – dentists, and insects and spiders, being the most prolific – which I also dealt with incredibly unhealthily, but nothing even came near to my Fear of Sick.
It was this fear that kept me from truly “discovering” alcohol. I was happy to get drunk, but I was always careful to stop well before the Danger Zone. It’s a shame really, as the music and club scene in Hull in the 90s was such that being drunk would have considerably improved it. It wasn’t until I started University and discovered the overwhelming freedom of having absolutely no restraints – of being able to smoke without doing it in secret, or being able to spend all my money in one day without being chastised, of missing every single lecture in a week with only a slight slap on the wrist to show for it – that I truly embraced alcohol. I was already drunk on what I thought was freedom (please note the massive, gaping errors in my logic), what more harm could actually being drunk do? After all, wasn’t I invincible? It’s strange, because the fear of throwing up never left, but the love of being drunk started to rival it I suppose.
Anyway, at a size 14 I thought I was huge. I’d always had an unhealthy relationship with food. My Dad, a fit and healthy person who watches his weight and does regular exercise to stay strong and fit, never really grasped the fact that I was a very tall teenager who was constantly hungry. Every time I tried to eat enough at mealtimes he would ask me “Do you really need that?” which would shame me into putting it back. I very often went to bed hungry and actually dreamed about food. It was my own sense of shame though, not his input, which led me to feel embarrassed and gluttonous. Whereas anyone else would have spoken up and said “Actually, yes, I do need it, I’m a growing teenager who is already taller than you, and I’m really hungry”, which he would’ve understood, I kept my head down and felt ashamed.
This led to eating in secret. When my parents were out I’d run to the kitchen and eat a sandwich before they got home. When my friend and I started going into town on a Saturday daytime we would always have McDonalds for lunch because it was forbidden. I felt I needed to hide what I ate, and project a façade of healthy eating and mini portions when at home. I suppose I developed the same approach to alcohol too. Either way, eating was something to be ashamed of, and eating at home often seemed to be a contest of who could eat the least. I remember taking half a pastrami sandwich and a mini can of Weight Watchers soup (also known as coloured water) to work for lunch one day when I was 25, only for my Dad to say “Do you really need all that? I only eat fruit at lunchtime”. I literally despaired.
It is no one’s fault but mine, and certainly not my Dad’s, that I was not equipped to deal with freedom. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of co-dependency – an inability to set appropriate boundaries and control one’s behaviour. It was just unfortunate that the message I’d managed to retain was that enjoying food was bad. For this reason I saw it as a treat, a comfort, something to be treasured because it wasn’t really allowed. Which is why, when I got upset over the fact that I’d started to put weight on I would eat to make myself feel better. And then drink, to make myself feel better after the eating. And then eat because I was drunk and hungry. And then drink because I felt bad……
What came next was an absolutely abominable relationship with a severely damaged and stunted individual, a series of truly terrible grades (lowest scoring person in my faculty to fail the first year, and still ever so slightly proud…), a marathon of nights out I couldn’t remember, and a steady upward creep of the needle on the scales. I’m simplifying of course, the years between 18 and 24 were some of the worst of my life, to such an extent that looking back actually frightens me, but you get the idea.
So, yeah, I wish I were as fat as I thought I was the first time I thought I was fat. Size 14 is my target size nowadays. I’m currently a 20, and when I started this blog I was a 22 (not this post, this blog, that would be the fastest weight-loss EVER), I’m aiming for a 14 because I think it’s reachable and sustainable. It will also get me back into the pretty high street dresses that call to me as I walk through shopping centres. Man I love clothes….
The issue I’ve always had though is that I kept trying to diet. I spent years trying to cut down on certain types of food, but constantly relapsing into a spiral of shame and pizza, wondering why nothing ever worked. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was an addict, and applied to food the same logic that alcoholics apply to alcohol, that I finally started to see results. And it’s easy. It genuinely is. Sometimes I have a massive craving for pizza, or ice cream, or crisps, but every mealtime I make healthy, informed choices on autopilot, and I sincerely enjoy them and then feel good.
So I’m going to do something now that I find incredibly difficult, and have been working up to the whole time I’ve been writing this. I’m going to post my least favourite picture of myself, right slap bang next to a picture of me as a size 14 when I was about 26 years old. This is not an exercise in shaming, or a way to punish myself for being fat and ugly, this is something that feels right. I’m acknowledging the people I have been, and I’m accepting them both.
And for the purpose of documentation – this is the most recent photo of me, taken on Saturday. It’s terrible quality as it’s been zoomed in on, a lot, but it’s what I have.