A Weight Off My Mind

Bon Iver – Skinny Love

It’s taken me a very long time to decide whether or not it’s right for me to post this. In fact, if I do ever manage to press the ‘submit’ button, I know I’ll be being braver than I anticipated.

I don’t really do ‘personal’ on this blog (haaate it), but I now think that this is an important step for me, and after discussing this with so many people and seeing how I’m definitely not alone on this, I’ve decided this is for the best, even if its more revealing than I’m usually comfortable with. I just don’t want it to be preachy real life magazine story in a kind of ‘I Shot My Absent Father and Now He’s Haunting My Gender-Confused Kids’ way. This isn’t sensationalism or whining, it’s supposed to help. And hopefully not just me.

So here goes: I guess, if you want to put a label on it, I’m anorexic.

I don’t call myself this, but I have most of the symptoms, so whatever makes you feel better. I’m certainly not an extreme example by any measures. I still have my hair for a start.

Basically, when I’m stressed (and this happens about once a month or two on average, and lasts for a week or so at a time), I severely control my eating. I did it when I was 15-16, and it has crept back into my life with a vengeance in the last couple of years.

I go for days on end eating very little food at all, sometimes nothing for 24 hours, and it makes me feel a little bit more in control with the rest of my life.
I’m a total perfectionist, and if I feel I’m as skinny as I can be, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I know that’s utterly bonkers, you don’t need to tell me. But it can be a small consolation during the times where I feel like I’m struggling to achieve other, more solid things in my life.

I obsess over my calorie intake (yeah, what woman doesn’t from time to time?) weigh myself every day, get paranoid that other people are trying to give me high-calorie foods in disguise, feel I’ve put on weight after every meal, and cook for others without eating what I prepare myself.

And even though I’m actually underweight now, I always feel I can lose more. ‘Well, I’ve come this far…’ Sound familiar? Then you need to pull yourself together, you total bell-end. You’ll end up all ribs and no attitude. And guess what? It doesn’t make it all better.

It all starts with a stress-related reduction in my appetite. Something will change in my life, or something will shake me or my confidence, and I feel sick to my stomach with nerves or pressure, so I genuinely can’t eat.

Then I lose weight, (usually a significant amount, like half a stone in a week) and – as seems to be the default setting for us womenfolk – I immediately feel better. Then I continue forcing myself not to eat, even when I do feel a bit hungry again, because I associate those positive feelings about weightloss with regaining some kind of control on my situation.  ‘Cos everyone knows cake kills your career, and if you eat a kitkat then your boyfriend won’t love you anymore. Right?

If I’m skinny, I’ll feel better.

If I’m skinny, they’ll like me more.

If I don’t eat, I’ll have more time to do things that will make my life better.

The problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Being skinny has nothing to do with my success, my friends, my relationships or my happiness. Being comfortable in your own skin does, and it’s the hardest lesson to learn.

Here’s me in October and December 2009. I’m 11st, and my BMI is exactly 25. Despite that meaning I was technically just overweight, I was pretty happy here, chubby cheeks and curvy bum and flabby arms ‘n all.

On 22nd December, 2009, someone said something to me that reminded me of how I’d been when I was sixteen: starving myself to be happy. It stuck fast in my mind. It was a relatively stressful Christmas, and I found myself back in that mind-frame of self-starving with frustrating ease to combat the issues I was having in other areas of my life. I lost 7lbs in a week, and realised I had the bug back.

A relatively stressful January – April followed: a big work event, my Uni finals, various personal issues, and my thirst for perfection (i.e a First, and general world domination) ensued. By April, I’d lost 35lbs, and two dress sizes. It was nearly entirely achieved by starving, drinking black coffee to curb hunger, and obsessively counting every calorie I dared to consume.

In the summer, I felt like I healed. I got my First, and I loved my job and the people in my life. I bought a new wardrobe of clothes. I got back my old eating habits. I didn’t put on weight, but I felt happier than I had for a long time. Of course, I put this down to the fact I was now skinny, at 8 1/2 stone. And I continued to count every calorie I ate, right down to the single Quality Street offered to me by a colleague. Yeah, basically because I was a bit of a twat.

In December 2010, some of the old stress returned. I had issues, and a dress I knew I would have to fit into for a party in January became my way of distracting from these issues. It was a small size eight, and I was scared I’d put on weight over Christmas (like every other human being in the country, but who cares about common sense?) and it wouldn’t fit. So I returned to my old habits, and lost another 11lbs in two weeks. I was under 8st, and underweight, and the dress hung off me.

These aren’t ‘shock’ photos. Yeah, I’m skinny (my arms and jawline quite frankly look ridiculous in comparison to the ones in December 2009), but I’m only just underweight. I don’t look like I’m starving. What I’m trying to convey is the mindset: that skinny = happy. That losing weight = solving issues that have nothing to do with my size. The photos at my skinniest are always shortly after the most stressful periods of my life.

I actually put on 10lbs between January and June, but in the last two weeks I’ve lost it all again because I’ve been struggling with a few more issues. And the other symptoms of anorexia have made a return with a total vengeance: no energy, insomnia, mood swings, headaches and dizziness, digestive issues, bruising easier than a fucking peach (you should see my calves), weighing yourself every day, fear of eating in front of others, sore throats, etc. There’s a list here: I have nearly every one of those symptoms.

It’s worse than ever before, but that’s finally made me realise that I can’t keep doing this to my body. I’m not happier being skinny – I never was. I’m happier being confident about being me, and that comes from having the self-respect to give your body the food it needs (and a few chocolate eclairs along the way) and the realisation that your weight has nothing to do with how much you are worth as a person.

The trouble is once you get into the habit of doing this to yourself, it’s really hard to stop. When I get nervy about something, I pinch my pointy hip bones and collar bones to remind myself they’re there, or run my fingers up and down my ribs to prove how pronounced they are. And I know that when I next get stressed about something, I’ll want to stop eating again. I don’t know how long it will take me to stop this, but I’m determined to do it. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve been discussing this with close friends recently, and some of them have eerily similar issues. I know they’ll give me a poke when I start to lapse back into my old habits.

Life is too short to count calories. Life is too short to think that no one will love you if you can’t shop at Topshop without feeling self-conscious. Life is too short to say things like ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ while staring longingly at Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake.

So if you think doing this is going to help you, think again and have a bloody muffin. I promise you’ll feel better in the long run. We both will.

Now you’ve read this post, you can either ostracise me as a crazy person, or realise that no one judges me more than myself. I just want to stop this total silliness, so please feel free to leave your own weight/body-image stories in the comments. I promise every one of them will help.

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11 thoughts on “A Weight Off My Mind

  1. *hugs*. I am not at all anorexic but know what it’s like to have eating hang-ups. I am underweight (7 & half stone) despite eating like it’s going out of fashion. I have to do a small food shop every 2 days because I can’t stop myself eating everything as soon as I get home. Yet I get people who are really rude & wave food under my nose because they think I never eat. People who I don’t know even approach to tell me I am far too skinny. People would never comment on a stranger’s weight if they were bigger, & their insensitivity really makes me cross at times. i think society can make or break people. X

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Wow, that must be really hard to deal with – people judging you for being skinny when it isn’t even your intention to be underweight! I have a few friends in exactly the same boat and it’s equally as frustrating for them to be underweight unintentionally but eating fine as it is for me to be unable to eat at all. Stay strong and remember that those that mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind. 🙂 Sharing your story with me was a wonderful thing to do. xx

  2. I read this ’cause it’s been something that’s been playing on my mind lately. I, too, have difficulties with my weight and food. I wouldn’t say I was anorexic, but I definitely have the potential. I calorie count and add it up and watch it and I can easily go a day only eating an apple and a biscuit. I long learnt that trick of drinking to ward off hunger pangs and eating little to make do. And it annoys me so much cause I KNOW I shouldn’t and I KNOW I don’t need to lose weight but it’s one thing I can control and I do feel so guilty when I have a bad day.

    So what I’m saying is, thank you for writing this. I feel less of a freak ❤

    • You’re definitely not a freak. 🙂 You’re lovely, and you sound like you have the same mentality as me that stops you from being able to disassociate food from feelings of guilt. We both need to learn that we’re beautiful and fabulous and controlling what we eat only prevents us from believing this. 🙂

      Thank you so much for commenting and giving your own story – it’s nice, in a weird sort of way, to know that people who behave in the same way as me have read this. I hope you succeed in beating this – you’re worth more than making yourself miserable over food. 🙂 xxx

  3. It was really very brave for you to blog this, and I am sure lots of people will get a great deal from reading it.
    You seem to really, really understand yourself and your issues, which I’m sure (I’ve never suffered from any eating disorder) is more than half way to working through your eating problems 🙂 Be really proud of what you have written – not many people can be that honest about themselves. Best of luck xxx

    • Thank you so much for this. I was really worried about posting this, but I hoped it would do more good for me than bad in terms of helping me work through this bizarre state of mind. People like you reaching out and giving me support, even though you don’t know me, really do me the world of good. You make me feel better about how well I understand myself, and give me confidence to try and change. 😀
      xxx

  4. This is a great post and I respect your honesty. Eating disorders (incluing EDNOS, which seems like the most fitting name for the history you’re describing) can be strangely addictive and almost impossible to escape from. I’m glad you’re actively trying to get out of this cycle while you still have a choice, and it’s really brave of you to share this and try to reach others as well. Having lived with anorexia and bulimia for 10 years myself, I know how scary it can be even to admit there’s a problem.

    Thank you and take care!

  5. Laura, I loved this post. Well done for pressing publish – it’s these things that get people talking about eating disorders and they can be so helpful for others.

    I have also had issues with food. Like you say, if you want to put a label on it, at one point, I was bulimic. I did make myself sick after food on isolated occasions over a period of two years. I’ve never admitted this to anyone in ‘real life’, because I felt so embarrassed. So for you to write this post I know must be so difficult.

    Although I have moved on from the making myself sick part of things, I still have issues with weight. I constantly think about how I need to lose weight and yet cannot stop my love of chocolate and cake – sometimes I even make bowls of buttercream just to eat them! And despite being a supposed level-headed 27 year old I still fall for the media pressure of the ‘perfect size-zero’ image. Yet if you look at Pre-Raphaelite art, I would be considered the perfect female form (albeit with dyed red hair!). It’s a sad reflection of the standards society has set for women, I feel, but it is something that we are sucked into.

    I can only hope that I will eventually move past the desire for a wash-board stomach, as you always read about people saying they wished they had realised in their twenties that they were at their prime… but I get the feeling I’ll always have the niggling belief that I don’t have the perfect body I should have.

    But, to go back to the start of this comment, it’s blog posts like yours, getting things out in public, that allow this type of dialogue and facilitates discussions. So well done, and I hope that you can find a healthy relationship with your weight.

  6. Laura, well done for posting this – it was very brave to publish such a personal story. You seem to have everything worked out rationally in the post. Stay strong, and eat plenty of those muffins!

  7. Well done you for writing this. It is very brave.

    I have never had weight issues, I am lucky to be pretty skinny naturally although like every girl it fluctuates. However, my mum and my sister are/were anorexic and bulimic respectively. I grew up with eating disorders running our lives. My sister’s was caused in many ways by my lack of issues. She admitted that a few years ago.

    I am always wary of myself if I start watching my weight or pinching an inch and I hate getting above a size 8 but I know the path it can easily go down.

    You sound like you know and accept that this is something you need to face (I wont say deal with!) and make you mind up how you want to go forward.

    Well done again x

  8. Well done for pressing publish- awesomely honest post. I can’t say I’ve been through a similar situation, but you’re right; life is far too short. I hope for a happy and healthy @LaRainbow xxxxx

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