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With The Benefit of Hindsight (part one)

March 9, 2012

Hello and happy Friday! I hope you’re looking forward to whatever the weekend will bring. I know that I’ve been writing quiet a few wordy posts lately, but that’s just what’s been springing out of me. I wasn’t going to write a post at all today because I didn’t have much to say, but then I read Tessa’s post and I felt inspired. You should go and check out the full post, but one aspect of it is about not being aware that the way you eat is disordered.

Warning: I am talking about restrictive eating behaviours, so if you don’t want to read about that, feel free to skip this post.

I have mentioned my story before but basically I was overweight my whole childhood, until I turned 15 and I decided that I really needed to do something about my weight and my health. I was 15 stone and at my lowest point. I remember sitting on my bed with my Mum crying and talking about my options. I knew that I wanted to do it the sensible way and that there were no quick fixes. In the end I decided to go and see my GP and find out what she could offer me.

She showed me a meal plan which was meant to help you lose a certain amount in four weeks (I can’t remember how much). I remember very clearly that the plan involved an awful lot of tuna and grapefruit, two foods that I really disliked at the time. I still hate tuna, but have grown to like grapefruits now. The doctor really tried to persuade me to try out this plan, but when it became clear that there was no way that I was going near a tin of tuna she did eventually give up. We agreed that I should aim to lose 1-2 pounds a week and I had absolutely no intention of crash dieting because I was in it for the long haul.

For the next two years I met with the practice nurse every two weeks for a weigh-in, and sure enough nearly every week I dropped one or two pounds, until I eventually lost 5 stone. For the first time in my life I was a healthy BMI and I felt so elated. Plus, I had done it the “sensible” way – I had lost weight slowly, I didn’t count calories at all, and I didn’t weigh myself at home.

However, there were other things going on behind the scenes that I can see clearly now with the benefit of hindsight. I didn’t count calories because I thought that it was obsessive behaviour and I prided myself on being an emotionally stable person, but I did create all sorts of other food rules. I watched my fat intake like a hawk. Food manufacturers would market their low-fat products by advertising the fact that they have “less than 3% fat”. Somehow that become my benchmark and I wouldn’t eat anything that had more than 3% fat. If the food had zero fat or less than 1g then that was a bonus.

I took over the cooking at home. In some respects that wasn’t a bad thing because I genuinely love cooking and my Mum hates it. I learnt a lot about cooking techniques, what flavours go together, and what I liked to eat. However, part of it was about controlling what went into my food, in particular making sure that no fat was added whatsoever. Honestly, the thought that someone would add oil to my stir-fry would make me panic.

I also had a warped belief that I shouldn’t eat much during the day, so I would have a decent-ish breakfast and dinner, but hardly any lunch. I have no idea where I got this from, all I know is that I was starving during the day. My daily diet looked like this:

  • Porridge or dry muesli in strict rotation (porridge one day, muesli the next). I don’t know how I managed to get dry muesli down my neck!
  • Cinnamon and raisin bagel or a small plain jacket potato for lunch (no spreads or fillings on either)
  • No-fat yoghurt or a glass of fruit juice when I got home from school
  • Normal-ish dinner (e.g. spag bol, stir-fry)
  • An apple cut into very thin slices so it lasted longer and a Horlicks

I loved going on holiday, but I found stepping away from my usual routine a struggle. I’d usually end up losing more weight than usual on holiday because I would be extra restrictive during the day to save up for dinner time when I knew that I might have to eat richer food than I was used to.

During this time I never even touched chocolate (which I gave up when I was 12), cake, crisps, biscuits, or any sort of junk food. I did fill up on sweets occasionally, as long as they were fat-free. I would regularly dream that I’d eaten I slice of cake and then wake up in a panic, or even crying, and racked with guilt, until I realised that it wasn’t real.

Where this links in with Tessa’s research is that at the time I didn’t realise that this wasn’t normal or healthy behaviour. I was at the top end of a healthy BMI, actually around the same weight as I am now and I had been “sensible” about my weight loss. I didn’t want to lose any more, but I found that I needed the same level of restriction just to maintain. My parents occasionally expressed concern that I should eat more fat, but I was happy with my new body and excelling at school. It’s not until recently that I’ve actually looked back on that time and realised how restrictive and controlling I was.

This pattern of eating stopped quite quickly when I went to university. I was out of my usual routine and I was determined to make the most of my university experience. Plus, all my friends had totally healthy relationships with food and their bodies, and dieting was never a topic of conversation. On my first day we played an ice-breaker game involving chocolate and I decided that I needed to join in. I’m sure that I experienced some guilt, but I was so excited about the new chapter in my life that it was easy to push to one side. On another occasion, I was invited for dinner by a second year who had made a meal and prepared an apple pie. I refused a slice at first, but then I was encouraged to at least have a little bit by my friend, and I remember actually enjoying it. I think by that point I was fed up with being so controlling with food and I was ready to change.

I still continued to have issues with food, my weight and body image, but I have never gone back to being so restrictive. This post is already quite long, so I think I’ll go into that on another day!

Have a fabulous weekend everyone!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Lara permalink
    March 9, 2012 5:45 pm

    I think it is so difficult when you are in the moment you don’t realise, or take a long time to realise what you are doing to yourself. I still go through phases of being conting over one food or another. Great post, good discussion points.

  2. Bronagh permalink
    March 9, 2012 5:53 pm

    Thanks for choosing to share your story on the blog. It’s really interesting, insightful & I’m looking forward to the next installment 🙂 Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing and I can certainly relate to your experiences of thinking that everything needs to be low fat & setting yrself strict food rules believing that they were healthy… I guess we were just young & miseducated? All the more reason to be grateful for the way we are now 🙂

  3. March 9, 2012 8:59 pm

    This reminds me a lot of when I was a teenager losing weight: I’d actually skip breakfast or just have an apple…or once, when I kept fainting at school my Mum made me eat a slice of dry white toast (my, how things have changed!) I’d throw away my lunch and live on Diet Coke, snack on two pieces of fruit (usually an apple and a banana) when I got home, eat a ‘normal’ dinner (I was veggie then, so usually Quorn products in some form) and then have Weetabix and raisins (one, or two if I was totally starving) with skim milk in the evening. I lost so much weight, and eventually cut things down more and more.

    I didn’t think it was disordered: everyone and their friend was on one ‘diet’ or another at school. Sadly, I think almost all teenage girls are messed up about food, and their understanding of it is about as nuanced as their understanding of sex 😛

    Still, I suppose I’m not much better now, only in a different way!


  4. March 9, 2012 10:16 pm

    Your posts are always so thought-provoking and interesting; I think a lot of people probably have restricted eating, often without really knowing it. It’s brilliant that you’ve been able to get to a better way of eating; I think everyone has to have treats regularly and that they’re part of a healhty diet…

  5. Errign permalink
    March 9, 2012 11:42 pm

    Great post Sarah! I love that you can look back on that eating style and know that it wasn’t healthy and use that knowledge to shape how you eat now 🙂

  6. March 10, 2012 11:14 am

    What an interesting post. I think more people than you would realise have issues around food. Even people of average weight still have these hang up’s and issues- the marketing around food does show this too as they still play to the low fat/ fat free foods to being healthy/ healthiest, when in reality they are often not. Have a lovely weekend.

  7. March 10, 2012 2:05 pm

    I think you are so right about sometimes not realising your eating is disordered. I think even just in the last couple of years my eating has been more disordered than I realised. I know when I lost the majority of my weight when I was just having a low cal cuppa soup for lunch at work my eating was probably a little too restrictive. I guess its all part of the learning process though. Looking forward to more of your thoughts on this!

  8. March 10, 2012 3:57 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, and I think pretty much every woman out there can relate to it in some shape or form. Even now, if I do something I’d never of done in my teenage years, like get an unplanned cake at a cafe because it looks amazing, I feel kind of…..proud? of myself. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Just happy to have realised that diet coke was not lunch. I often feel sad for my 15 year old self, but I think it’s made me appreciate my healthy attitude more now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing indeed!

  9. March 11, 2012 7:59 pm

    I think you’ve definitely covered an important topic in this post. I think everyone’s eating can be disordered at times. I know mine can be when I have the same breakfast and the same lunch everyday because I know how many calories I have in them, or even going on big sweet binges is a disordered behaviour. I know that my eating can be disordered, and sometimes I do think that even the blog world has made my eating a bit more strange, but the support network it provides is so important.

  10. March 12, 2012 11:09 am

    I know this post was probably not that easy to write so I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down and write this for us, I really enjoyed reading it. Not because I enjoyed reading about your restriction, on the contrary I’m sorry you had to experience that, but because it spoke a lot to me on a personal level. I have never been overweight so I can’t relate to that but I can definitely relate to the restrictions, there was a time where all I had to eat throughout the day was an apple flavoured nutrigrain bar, now they make me feel physically ill because I ate them everyday without fail for so long!

    I am glad that there is a positive in this post, I’m so glad you have never returned to that place 🙂 You have so much to be proud of, getting down to a healthy weight, learning to cook, then learning about truly healthy food, starting running… I think you have clearly learned so much despite your struggles!

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