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.