When a friend is diet-obsessed

If you’re reading this blog post, maybe you have somebody you care about whose eating behaviours are causing you concern. Perhaps you’re thinking there will be advice you can use to help this friend or relative wake up to the dangerous course they’re travelling on. Let me save you the disappointment right now, this isn’t that kind of article.

“What do you eat on a typical day Esse?” that’s how the weary subject of dieting entered our conversation today. Lily and I have been meeting up for a coffee almost every Friday morning for the last year. We spend an hour or so talking about our work, our friends, our families, and inevitably the subject veers onto Lily’s latest diet and weight loss efforts.

“All sort of things. I don’t have a set meal plan. I just try to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.” I said.

“Well, yeah, ok. But what do you have for breakfast each day?” she said.

I felt like I was treading dangerous territory. I’ve told Lily before that I don’t believe in diets anymore and tried to help her understand why. This is a truth I came to realise before Lily and I got to know each other, a couple of months before our coffee dates became a regular thing, and I have been making steady progress toward recovering my relationship with food and restoring a positive body image.

“It depends. Sometimes I have cereal, sometimes I have toast, or fruit and yoghurt. Sometimes I have  pastry and a coffee! It changes.” I groaned inwardly. Even after last week’s attempt to get her to see the futility of dieting, the importance of not measuring her worth by her appearance, following it up by sending her links to videos on healthy lifestyles and articles on positive body image… even after months of my politely but consistently changing the subject when it she steered it onto weight loss… here we were, Lily on the verge of asking me for diet tips.

“What about for lunch and dinner? What do you eat during the rest of the day?” she said.

“Like I said, it varies.” I said, purposely being vague and hoping she would give up.

“Ok, but what do you usually have?” she insisted.

“Well, we have a lot of stir-fries and curries. I mostly cook from scratch. We hardly buy anything ready-made. We have pizza once a week or once every couple of weeks.”

“Hmm. Ok.” she said, thoughtfully.

“And crisps, biscuits, cakes, they’re in there too.” I added, laughing.

“How do you do it though, how do you stay so nice and slim?” she pleaded.

It was meant as a compliment so I took it as such, I swayed my shoulders in a mockery of showing-off and jokingly said, “Ah, thank you, you’re very kind.” then added seriously, “I just try to not eat too much or too little.”

With this, Lily told me about her latest endeavour to eat less carbs and have no more than 3 meals a day. She told me she feels bloated most of the time, she can’t get her lower abdomen to shrink and she is sure her legs could be thinner… etc etc. Lily and I are not very different in shape. To be honest, I would be surprised if I turned out to be lighter than her because I would guess my dimensions are a bit bigger than hers. Yet, there she was, thinking I am enviably smaller than her. Oh, and did I mention? Lily is 17 years old.

It’s frustrating. I have been there, I have reduced my self-esteem to the size of a set of scales, I have dived into the starving, calorie-counting, fat-free, sugar-free, flavour-free whirlpool. I was sucked in for nearly 9 years, and I have steadily and with great difficulty fought my way out of it. There have been times when I thought I was free and got sucked back in, there have been times I’ve been on the edge and daring myself to dip my toes in, but gradually I’ve left that part of my life further and further behind. I have slowly rediscovered the Esse that was sucked in and trapped by the binge-eating, body-hating, diet-addicted monster that could have easily turned into an eating disorder.

In Lily I see a reflection of my past, and it tears me up to see her making the same mistakes. I feel so helpless, no matter how many times I have tried I just can’t make her see how futile this pursuit of thinness is.


The Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly

Recently received a link to this great article through Pocket, an app which collects great articles from around the web. As somebody who carries a lot of brain static around with her but often doesn’t use writing as her first response to cope with it, this article gave me plenty of reasons to put pen to paper even without the intention of ever publishing or sharing what I write. Writing doesn’t have to have any greater purpose than clearing brain static, that in itself is a worthy reason to make time to write.


Dieting, Binging and Recovery: Don’t Let It Define Your Life

It was around this time last year that I had my biggest “fall off the bandwagon”. After 4 months of fastidious calorie counting, meticulously researched and documented workouts, progress photos and weekly weigh-ins I had reached my “goal weight”, but was still discontent. I decided that the solution was to shed another 5-10lbs, meaning more restraint, planning and penance, but my body was done with deprivation – the more I tried to cut back, the more I thought about food (particularly banned food), I craved it and obsessed about it.

The following 4 months were a self-destructive plunge into binge-eating, made worse every time I resolved to get back onto the proverbial bandwagon. The weight crept on, slowly at first, then faster, until I was back at my “starting weight”, but with a more messed up relationship with food, crushed self-esteem and the most depressive mindset I have ever been in, I even got the point of going to my GP about how I was feeling – an embarrassing visit in which the mere attempt at asking for professional help had me bawling like a baby in front of a total stranger.

Soon my research into “how to stop cravings” turned into “how to stop binging” which introduced me to the “anti-diet” and “healthy at every size” movements sprinkled across the internet and self-help bookshelves. I started a blog documenting my journey from binge-eater to intuitive eater, from chronic-dieter to anti-dieter, hoping that this would give me the support I needed from people going through a similar journey as well as help others who one day might benefit from a day-to-day, week-to-week account of how I succeeded in overcoming binge-eating and learned to love my body as it is by improving my self-esteem. I saw myself as a future success story, a mindful eating guru in the making, in a matter of months I’d be a mindful eating, Pilates doing, wisdom oozing fashionista. At first, this delusion was super helpful, the support on WordPress was amazing, and on some weeks all that stopped me from starting a new diet was knowing that I was accountable to my followers. Eventually, however, it became increasingly clear that I had traded my weight loss obsession for a intuitive eating obsession so I had to cut myself off from the constant researching on how to stop binging and just get on with living.

The more I focused on my “food problem” the more it came to define me. It became clear that one of the most important parts of overcoming my obsession with food and dieting was to stop thinking about it all day, I had to rediscover myself, my interests and hobbies, heal the girl I started to chip away at when I went on my first diet some 9 years ago and who was subsequently all but totally destroyed in the intense 2015 4-month Last Diet Of My Life. So I turned my back on WordPress, unsubscribed to the blogs on strength training and ED recovery, stopped checking the sites of anti-diet coaches, stopped reading books on binge-eating and started living my life. Ironically, it’s thanks to my blog that I realised I needed to unplug and invest more time in helping others, drawing, painting, listening to music, dancing, reading and restoring my fragmented personality.

Today I am still a work in progress, I probably overeat a few times a month, occasionally I have a week where I never experience true hunger, but the secretive binges and the day-long snack attacks are so rare that I can’t remember the last time I had one. I’m sensitive to the media and to diet-talk, I have to force myself to not compare my body to other women’s, to not judge myself based on my appearance, some months I have to re-listen to audiobooks like Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat because I have been on the brink of starting a new diet and need another reminder of why diets don’t work. I’ve even had to cut back on TV shows which have more footage of super-slim, fit and gorgeous women than I can handle, I’m becoming increasingly familiar with my triggers and limitations and learning to accept and work around them.

On the positive side, I’ve fallen back in love with reading and art, I do both on a weekly if not daily basis. My hubby and I go trail biking a few times a month which we both love, and I’ve found out that I really do enjoy strength training (still working out how to incorporate it into my schedule regularly though). The urge to track, calculate and measure is so reduced that the mere thought of it usually exhausts me. Happily, I no longer define myself as an exerciser or healthy eater, I’m once again an arty, crafty girl with a loving family, a few good friends and, mostly, a positive outlook.

Those are my two cents.