Food, my weight – that took up nearly all of my consciousness. Most of my blog posts, too.
hated had a deep discontent with the way I looked. This was until recently. I have let it go. Here, as the cliche goes, is my story.
I was a bright child. Bright, and reasonably confident, with a fairly strong sense of who I was. I would not have come this far if I did not have these things. I used to eat a lot, my parents called me “Fang”. They gently ribbed me, but fed us lollies and $2 worth of chips when times were tough. They often were.
I had brains, I had strength. I did not put a lot of stock on physicality – neither physical attractiveness nor physical prowess. My sister – she was the popular and pretty one, the “hot little package”. I was the smarter and plainer older sister. That was fine.
I was picked on a lot at school – being brainy, having acne and being a little on the heavier side (though svelte by today’s standards), it was par for the course. I never thought it got to me, I had succeeded despite all of this, but perhaps it eroded my confidence in my looks. Perhaps.
I never gave a lot of thought to how I looked through medical school – I had little money and had a boyfriend, so I never really tried. I put on quite a lot of weight in my final year of medical school, perhaps peaking at over 80kgs. It never occurred to me until I overheard my nanna say to an aunty “That Cilla, she’s a lovely girl, but jeez, she has put on some weight!” I ate blocks of chocolate and bags of marshmallows, mostly, in retrospect, out of boredom and loneliness. I lived in a share house with international students and did not have much money.
In intern year, 2003, about 5kg flew off in the first few weeks. I barely had time to eat, that was why. I began to go to the gym, because finally, I could afford a gym membership. I could also afford those little $1 bags of lollies they sold at the womens auxiliary at the Austin, I had a 1 a day habit, and this, in hindsight, probably negated the earnest exercise. In any case, I was not particularly weight or food-conscious. I had terrible eating habits, raiding the vending machine rather than having proper meals. My patients’ health and wellbeing came before my own. My weight was stable, as the headless-chook-iness plus a sub-30 year old metabolism cancelled out the terrible eating.
In 2004, my father in law (to be) became terminally ill. I was working in hard jobs (palliative care, then intensive care), plus trying to plan a wedding by myself. In my intensive care job, I did 13 hour shifts, four on, four off, day then night, and my diet was atrocious. I steadfastly refused to lose weight for the wedding, and announced this proudly.
In mid-2005, I went on a month-long trip to Europe. We walked a lot, but ate and drank what we wanted. Despite an increasing and uncomfortable tightness in the pants, I continued this. I made a vow that, when I got home, I would go on a diet, and not drink any alcohol or eat any chocolate for a month. I did this. I lost a little weight, but it was all quite hard.
Late in 2005, I became a registrar for the first time – it was a massive increase in work and responsibility, and, again, the weight flew off. I reached my lowest adult weight. I thought, hey, great, I can eat what I want. I did, and, duly, my weight went right back up over the next year or two. This was exacerbated by studying for my physicians exams – hard work, no time for exercise, comfort food. I felt awkward and pudgy. Have a look at my “Bring on the end of July” poem in my “poetry” section – you will see a link to it.
Fast forward to 2008 – my first bout of depression. A new running habit, ostensibly to help my mood, but a big part of me said “hallelujah, now I will be skinny”.
I ran, then I ate. I ran, I ran. I ran a half-marathon. I ate more. The weight refused to budge. My desperation grew, and with it, my preoccupation with food, with eating, with the number on the scale.
Calories in, calories out – I underestimated one and overestimated the other. I thought – tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow never came.
Slowly, insidiously, a few things became fixtures.
1. I thought about food – all day, every day. I charted my intake. I thought about what I had eaten and how I had done badly, and how I would do better tomorrow.
2. I thought about my weight, all day every day. I weighed myself up to daily.
3. I would only buy things in size 12 – not in size 14 or larger. Hence, I bought a whole heap of clothes that were too small. I stashed them for the day I would fit into them. That day never came.
4. My feeling of unattractiveness, awkwardness increased, and I compared myself very harshly to other women.
5. I started to have the “when I get thin, I will…..” schema in my head. What was “thin”? An arbitrary number. When? Sometime in the future, like an oasis, seen but never upon me.
6. I would regularly eat until I was over-full, but figured it was OK because I was eating at a posh restaurant. I felt stuffed and guilty and resolved never to do it again.
I envied people who were slim, but, even more, I envied people who did not seem to think about their weight at all. It didn’t bother them. “Why can’t I be like them?” I wondered mournfully. I was terrified of blowing out, of spending my whole life worried about what I eat and what I weigh. I felt out of control around food. I realised it was consuming me, that it was a terrible waste of time and energy, and that it needed to stop. I went to a psychologist.
A lady in her late 40s, with sharp blue eyes, looking younger than her years, a cougar. She had a soft voice, but regularly made me squirm in my seat. Good, I thought, I am out of my comfort zone, I will get somewhere.
She bandied the phrase “binge-eating disorder”. On the mild end, but still apparent. I was frightened and appalled. Me? Binge-eating disorder? I checked the criteria, and, yes, it could be surmised.
Even though, at times, she made me deeply uncomfortable, I continued to see her. Sometimes we talked about my eating. Sometimes I talked about my family, about workmates. Sometimes, I smiled and said that nothing was wrong and I was fine.
Pennies started to drop – these pennies turned up on this blog, some of them. I found my mood-food-mouth reflex. The one that was triggered by any uncomfortable emotion. I sat with this awhile.
Then, my second bout of depression. I attributed it all to the cessation of my medication – temporally, this made sense. Perhaps, though, there was an element of being “unpicked”, emotionally. The thing that buoyed me through difficult times was melting away. Food could no longer support me.
Despite being quite ill, and spending the last 3 weeks of my registrar year off work, I got better. I sucked it in. I got on with the job of being a consultant and researcher.
Then other things started to happen. Things that were traumatic and overwhelming, but also some good things.
I forgot about food, unless I was hungry. I felt my feelings, rather than coating them in a double-layer of chocolate and a sprinkle of coconut. The weight came off. I lost weight. More than this though…
I found my inner minx.
I have found that my physical appearance (separate but interconnected to my brain and soul) is far more than the number on the scale or the centimetres around my waist.
It is the way my head flicks slightly when my hair gets in my face. That hair, flat and glossy. It always drew compliments. I have grown it long.
The straightness of my nose. That my cheekbones are high, lips full.
My butt, long hated, is large and firm and proud. It does not fit into jeans well, but that matters less now. (My thighs – meh. Not passionate about them). My waist is small.
That my eyes dance when I am passionate about something, and go glassy when I am tired or about to cry.
I can feel proud about my appearance. I feel attractive. I do not have to wait for my weight to go down. it is now. I do not have to feel inferior to other women – we all different.
Rather than trying to fit into a size, or a brand, I find clothes that fit and flatter me. I wear my makeup, rather than save it for special occasions; every day is an occasion. Indeed there are few better mood-lifters than Christian Dior blush, Lancome Mascara or MAC rebel lippy.
On the other hand, worrying/obsessing over my weight and exercise is about as sexy as (hypothetically) carrying 15 or 20 excess kilos. That is to say, not that sexy at all.
I have also had a few pennies drop about food and exercise. For me, they work. They make more sense than what I knew before.
If I get hungry, it is ok. I used to be afraid of hunger, so I would graze constantly. I realise that I am not in any imminent danger of starving. Now, I do not snack unless I am very hungry.
There is nothing more satisfying than eating when hungry. I eat with passion and gusto and feel guilty much less often.
I have learned to listen the internal whispers rather than the external screams. Portion control? I will eat until full. Not full? Wait. If I am not hungry, I will leave things on my plate. It is more of a crime to stuff myself than to waste food.
I used to think that if one was good, two was better. I am becoming comfortable with one serve, the second, in my experience, is never as good. I will wait before getting seconds and actually enjoy the firsts.
The sense of minor discomfort that gave way to automatic eating now triggers an “ok, what is really going on here”. I search my mind, not the fridge. It is not a comfortable thing.
I do not have fat days anymore. I have days where I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, sad and frightened, but few fat days. Again – less comfortable.
I do not see exercise as a way of expunging calories (it is not really that effective in that sense), but rather an end in itself. I enjoy being fitter, running, feeling free, feeling my muscles pop out. Playing chasey. Being able to kneel and squat right down. Also, my mood can get very low sometimes (the metaphorical black dog somtimes makes a brief visit) – it seems to be very sensitive to the small serotonin/endorphin rush that exercise seems to give.
Most importantly, I do not see myself as somebody who is unlucky, who struggles. I have to work at my eating and drinking, and be careful, but, hey, so do most people. I am learning to accept this, and show caution and be judicious most of the time, just as a matter of course than a burden. My eating has been a bit disgraceful, and wine swilling has become a little excessive of late, but I am conscious of it and will rectify it gently.
Ugh. Tired. Long blog post.