Sunday, 21 June 2009

On depression

I used to think that The Rolling Stones song "Paint it Black" was about life after the Vietnam war, maybe because it was the theme tune to Tour of Duty. More recently I think it feels a lot like depression.

I woke up one day last week and depression descended on me like a soggy black blanket. "I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes. I have to turn my head until my darkness goes". As I walked to school I felt physically weighed down by the grief and blackness I felt. I could feel the dread of the coming day pushing on the back of my neck. "I look inside myself and see my heart is black".

I know that people who have never had depression can't truly understand what it feels like, but I think listening to this song is a good start. When I am feeling this way, there is no joy in the day. Every day has its ups and downs but when I am depressed there are no ups. What I found a happy thought last week is now a grim one, what I was looking forward to I know is going to be miserable.

Then people on the way to school smile and say "hello, how are you?" and I stick on the smile I made at home and give them the stock answer. I can't bring myself to lie but I know they don't really want to hear the truth so I settle for "OK. You?" and hope that they are as keen to move on as I am. If one of my friends notices that I am not myself then my cover is blown. She'll ask what's up and I will look at her and wonder how I could possibly answer that question. Then my eyes will fill with tears and I will try to get away before I make a fool of myself in the playground. I then hurry back home where I can hide.

Despair is an almost physical emotion. It weighs on my head and makes me look down. When I do look up, it is from that position which gives me a permanent frown. I just skulk through my day hoping it will end quickly but knowing that tomorrow will be no better.

Then suddenly, or slowly, it lifts. I start to find I am looking forward to something, or I enjoy something and I know things are going to get better. This week it all happened so quickly that I was quite shaken by it. I felt the deep despair almost from waking and then when I dropped off my littlest at nursery it lifted in a matter of minutes. As soon as I was back in my home alone I started to feel positive and relaxed. I wonder what that says about me. I daren't think. I just know that I need time alone to feel grounded.

Don't really know how to finish this section.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A landmark weekend

We've had last weekend planned for months. Since before I read Beyond Chocolate. I've imagined it so many times that I didn't think it could possibly live up to expectation. But it did. In fact, it exceeded expectation.

We left the children at home with my parents after lunch on Friday and drove to a spa hotel. We settled into our lovely room and then went down to the bar we saw on the way in - sat at tables outside in the sun, doing the things that people without children do. We lazed about drinking beer and chatting all afternoon and then had dinner in the hotel's restaurant.

We had £25 each included with the cost of the break and it was very easy to get 3 courses for that money. So, there I was, pretty merry after 5 bottles of beer and a cocktail, eating delicious food with my lovely husband. A recipe for over-eating, but I didn't. I ate all my starter and about half of my main course. Then I had the best cheesecake I have ever had - white chocolate with strawberry sorbet. I savoured each mouthful slowly with my eyes closed, and then left half of it on the plate.

The following day we had breakfast included in the cost. I wasn't hungry so toyed with the idea of having just one sausage and just one hash brown, but instead I went and got some yoghurt, some mango puree and a bit of honey. It was lovely and all that I needed to keep me going until lunch. On Sunday I had nothing for breakfast except a few cups of peppermint tea, because that is what my body wanted. £12.50 worth of breakfast available and I had a cup of herbal tea. I could never have predicted that.

So, after a weekend of eating and drinking exactly what I wanted, I felt on top of the world. Last time I stayed in a hotel where the food was all included, I ate so much that I was sick in the night when I had rolled over onto my stomach. This time I left the hotel 1lb lighter than when I arrived. I had the energy to visit the gym twice while there, which I was surprised to really enjoy, and I did plenty of little bits of swimming. I did lots of reading (Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth) and a fair amount of quiet reflection.

Altogether, a totally perfect weekend and the most relaxing one I have had for years. And a triumph of Intuitive Eating over Bingeing.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Eating what I fancy

For any serial dieter, the concept of eating what you fancy is an exciting but all too short-lived one. It's not for life, it's just for Christmas. In many ways, it's what we do when we are in between diets. But are we really eating what we fancy? It feels like it is, but what we are probably eating is the foods we know we won't be able to eat when we are back on our diet.

Anyone who has ever done the Atkins diet will know how quickly you start to crave fruit and veg once the diet says you can't have it. This is the very food that you didn't fancy when you were on the Slimming World diet and it was 'free'. As soon as something is banned, we want it.

Every day I sat and watched the kids eating fun size chocolate as their treat after their evening meal, and wished that I could have some with them. When I started Beyond Chocolate they weren't banned any more. It didn't take me long to realise that I didn't actually like them very much. In fact, I eat them less often now than I did when they were banned, and it's not will power: I just don't fancy them,

I still eat chocolate, but probably no more often than I did before. What's changed is the amount and the type. I used to shove it in, mouthful after rushed mouthful, usually when no-one else was looking, usually standing up or hidden in my bedroom. Now I eat it slowly and enjoy it. My favourite at the moment is praline shells - I bite half of one and let it slowly melt in my mouth. I usually close my eyes at this point and enjoy the smooth velvety feeling. When it has all gone I eat the other half the same way. When that one is finished, if I fancy it I have another one. So far I have eaten no more than 3 in one sitting - I have had enough by that point. This isn't will power, I am just eating what I fancy. It amazes me how much I thought I loved chocolate, and yet I never allowed myself to sit and enjoy it. It's as if I was trying to get it in and eaten as quickly as possible.

When they hear the title Beyond Chocolate, a lot of people seem to think it is about stopping eating chocolate. That couldn't be more wrong. Those of us who have read it celebrate chocolate and the eating of it. We look for more ways of enjoying it all the time, and new sources to buy it. What we don't do is hide it, crave it, stuff it in or allow it to take control of our lives. We are in control.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

and today...

I thought it was about time I wrote something about what is happening now. It was a great day for food, and lazing about. Dave and I didn't wake up properly until after 9am - the kids were downstairs playing. The we lazed about in bed reading and dozing until about 11am. This is heaven as anyone who has had small children will know. I was hungry when I got downstairs but Dave had already been down and put a leg of lamb in the oven and I knew that would be ready at about 1pm. So I had a banana to keep me going and went out into my veg garden to plot the death of some slugs.

We both busied about the house making food and getting software onto my netbook. I made cheese sauce for the cauliflower and we made some decisions about how we are going to work with the Beyond Chocolate approach for the children. Instead of putting the cheese sauce on the cauliflower, we served it on its own so anyone could take it in the proportions they wanted. We didn't serve the kids food at all. They served themselves so they could choose what to have and how much. We didn't say they had to finish what they had before having more of anything - we let them be in charge. It was quite different, but not different enough to be alarming.

I ate off a tea plate and added a couple of bits of this and that as I went along. In the end, I probably had about 1.5 tea plates-full of food. For pudding we had yoghurt (full fat) with granola and cherries. It's organic so I am hoping it will not make me as aggressive as dairy usually does. I half-filled one of the children's plastic bowls for my portion. I had some wine as well. Had about half a glass and gave the rest to Dave. It was nice, but I didn't want any more.

Felt a bit stuffed in the afternoon and not at all hungry when the girls had their tea at about 5pm. I had 2 bites of the choc-chip buns I made for them as they were an experiment and I wanted to know how they turned out. We had our tea at about 7pm - Dave had made a curry out of the leftover lamb and cauliflower and we had it with a wholemeal tortilla. I had a small bowl and one tortilla followed by one of the buns from earlier. That was enough for me and I haven't had anything else to eat today.

In comparison to how I used to eat, that is amazing. Even if I had eaten as little as that during a meal, I would have grazed all evening. And the wine - I often restricted myself to drinking just at weekends, so I would have had a drink tonight as I wouldn't be able to for several days. As it is, I am teaching tomorrow night and I love a glass of wine when I have finished teaching. I know I can have a glass of wine any night I like so I don't need to have it. If I start a glass and don't want to finish it, I don't.

I have a box of my new favourite praline chocolates a few inches fom my head. I have given myself permission to eat them whenever I am hungry and fancy them. I don't fancy them very often but when I do, I slowly eat 2 or 3 and really enjoy them. How different from the binge scoffing of the very recent past.

Well, that's today's successes. My challenge for this week is working out exactly what I do want to eat, rather than what I like most from the selection currently and conveniently available. The idea is that the more I get in touch with what I really want, the more satisfied I will be by what I eat and the more I will be giving my body what it needs.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


Geneen Roth writes in her book "Breaking Free from Emotional Eating" that not one of the twenty five or so diets she has been on has mentioned anything about eating when you are hungry.

One of the selling points for Slimming World for me was that I never had to be hungry: there was always free food I could eat. In fact, for many years, I got hungry very rarely and when I did, I considered it a mistake, the result of an oversight. I once met a woman who ran a slimming club who told me that hunger was our friend. I'm not sure what she meant by that but I don't think she meant it was signal to eat. But that's basically what it is, isn't it? It's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a natural thing, a sign from our bodies that we need to eat.

So why did I resist getting hungry? Maybe it was simply that I couldn't resist eating for as long as it took for my stomach to empty. I just enjoyed eating so much that I did it - lots.

Our society tells us when to eat. We get up and we must eat breakfast, after all "it's the most important meal of the day". We have to eat at our lunch break because we can't eat outside of that time. We eat dinner at a more flexible time but usually a whole family will eat together, regardless of whether they are all hungry or not. This shared meal time is one of the cornerstones of our civilisation and many others.

So we are brought up to eat not when we are hungry, but when we are told to eat. That coupled with the obsession with clearing our plate (because of the starving children in Africa, as if our over-eating helps them at all) adds up to a generation of people eating based on several factors of which hunger is not one. Our natural body signals telling us to start or stop eating are overriden and we learn to ignore them. Is this part of the reason for the epidemic of obesity that is expected or possibly already here?

So, what now? I have had a hard time leaving the feelings about breakfast behind. "It starts the metabolism" they say, but surely getting up and moving around starts my metabolism and failing to add food to my stomach can't stop that process. Now I eat when I get hungry. Sometimes that is as soon as I get up so I eat before the children come down. More often it is later and I eat after I have dropped them off at school and nursery or playgroup. I don't eat lunch as such, I eat again when I am hungry. If I have eaten early, it is often mid morning but it can be much later, especially if I am busy and don't tune in to the early signs of hunger.

Not eating tea with the children was hard. I felt strange sitting down but not eating. After a while I realised that it meant I could feed them in the kitchen and not have to keep running back and forward to get things, but it also meant that when I did eat, I could focus on it rather than chewing fast in between clearing up mess and sorting out arguments.

I always disciplined myself not to eat in the evenings when I was on a diet. This meant that I sometimes went to bed hungry, which isn't very comfortable. Now I eat in the evening if I am hungry in the evening, but if I am not hungry, I don't eat. It sounds so simple and logical but it is anything but simple at first. The grazing habit is very hard to break but once I got used to going to bed satisfied rather than hungry or stuffed, I didn't want to give that up again.

I am still working on this. If I have made a lovely meal, I sometimes still eat even if I am not hungry. And when I have had a drink, I usually snack without hunger, but not to the same extent as I used to. I am improving all the time and finding out new things about myself almost daily. For example, I found out today that my post-swimming hunger is very superficial and can be as easily satisfied with a drink as with food.

I will close with another quote from Geneen Roth: Being hungry is like being in love: if you don't know, you're probably not.

Friday, 5 June 2009

My self image

I think I should be talking more about what is happening now on a blog, but I feel the need to get all the historical stuff on first, which should give a context to the current stuff I want to move onto later.

My earliest memories of body image are poor. I was a size 16 when I was 16, which wasn't a high-street size then so I felt like an outcast every time I wanted to buy clothes. When I went on riding holidays with my slimmer more able friend, she was assigned a spirited elegant animal to ride, and I felt like I got the shire horse! I can sum up my body image with the phrase I have often used: "I've always been big".

This section is titled self image, not body image, but the two are so closely linked that I find it hard to separate them. Until recently, I had a very poor body image, which stopped my overall self-image being good. Avoiding looking at myself in the mirror, avoiding buying new clothes and putting things on hold until I have lost the weight all contributed to making me feel pretty low and unself-confident.

Now I have a very positive body image - more so than I think I have ever had before. It's not that I am lots slimmer, because I have only dropped about a dress size and I have been much slimmer than this in the last 5 years. It's because I have stopped avoiding looking at myself in the mirror and buying new clothes, and I have started doing the things I was putting on hold. I have started wearing make-up - not every day but often enough to be getting good at it, and yet still consider it fun and not a necessity.

I read in Beyond Chocolate the suggestion to look at myself naked in the mirror and imagine I was the first woman. This means there are no comparisons to other women. I can now consider my hour glass shape without judgement or comment, just acceptance. It's fascinating to discover just how much of our thoughts about ourselves and our bodies are in (usually unfavourable) comparison to others. "My legs are too fat (compared to ...), my stomach is bigger than it should be (according to ...) and my boobs aren't as big as ..." When we just consider our legs, stomach and boobs without comparison, they are just legs, stomachs and boobs. Without the comparison there is no judgement, no right or wrong, just parts of the body. It's a fundamental shift in focus and very empowering.

So, with a new body image I have changed my image. I didn't like my hair as it felt non-descript and frumpy to me. So it is now much shorter and instead of having a hair cut and then going months before doing it again, I have booked myself in for another cut 6 weeks later to keep it as I like it. I like it purple and I don't like it grey so Dave colours it for me around the time of my hair cut so my hair goes back to being short and purple every 6 weeks.

I wasn't buying new clothes for two reasons: I shouldn't spend the money on me, and it's a waste to buy clothes I hope to get too small for so I will wait and buy them when I have lost the weight. The first one just isn't valid: I bought a new pair of trousers for the summer this week from Asda and they cost £8. I can afford that. And then the idea of waiting until I have lost the weight. Putting my life on hold until I get to where I want to be puts pressure on me to lose the weight. Every day I look at my drab wardrobe or see clothes in Asda I am reminded that I have failed to lose the weight. How can this constant mental self-criticism ever motivate me to move on? And what if I don't ever lose the weight?

So now I buy new clothes regularly. I buy clothes that I would never have bought before - the summer trousers I bought this week are white. I have never bought white because it is too unflattering. I love them and what's more important, I feel great wearing them. When I put on clothes that fit me and wear some make-up I feel confident, energetic and happy. If I never lose the weight, isn't this enough?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

My relationship with food

It's hard to pin-point exactly where my relationship with food went wrong. My sister and I saw a dietician when I was in my early teens and we were put onto a 1,300 calorie a day diet. I don't think I learned much from that - I remember eating more toast because I read in the calorie counter that it had less calories per ounce than bread. The dietician later explained that the slice of bread had the same amount of calories, but the weight had been reduced by removing some water while toasting. This was a great introduction to the daft rules of dieting.

The first time I remember using food as a substitute was when I gave up smoking at University. I starting eating takeaway pizzas nightly which was costly in many ways. The problem was that when I started smoking again, I didn't stop eating the pizzas or lose the weight I had gained. This became a serial problem for years. By the time I gave up smoking for good I was obese and had some very disturbing eating and drinking habits.

I started dieting again in 1999 and over the following decade I tried Slimfast, food combining, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, the Cambridge Diet, the Atkins diet and many exercise regimes. I lost weight many times and put weight back on just as many. By 2008 I longed to be normal - to be able to accept an invitation to a meal at someone's house and eat what I wanted. To achieve that, I had to wait a little longer.

I read Beyond Chocolate in April 2009. Straight away I realised that it was what I was going to do. It wasn't a diet or a new eating programme, it was just a collection of principles that made a lot of sense. It upset me to realise how messed up my relationship with food was and I got to work on it straight away.

I craved chocolate cake, home-made, with chocolate icing on the top and jam in the middle. I made it sometimes for the kids and tried hard to resist it but usually ate enough to make myself feel ill. The cake was in control and I was powerless in its presence. So, I made the cake and when I was hungry, I had some. I didn't have a second slice because I knew I could have it later when I was hungry and it was much nicer to eat when I was hungry. I had some more the next day, and the next day. On the 4th day I ate half a slice and left the rest. This was a massive breakthrough for me. I was in control and the cake no longer had any power over me. In the end, I gave the last slice to the birds as I had had enough of it.

That was the start and I haven't reached the end. I am still working on my relationship with food. I still eat more than I need to when I have had a drink or when others are eating. I still want to eat when I am unhappy or stressed but I am working on all of that. The main thing for me is that I am in control now and I haven't eaten until I feel ill since I opened the book for the first time. It's going to be a long journey but I have found some wonderful women to share it with and for the first time in many years, I am optimistic about my future with food.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Where to start?

I turn 40 at the end of this year. As soon as the year started I felt different. Just being able to say that phrase made me feel more reflective about my life. It started with a hair cut. On a whim, I decided to have it cut really short, much shorter than I have for many years. Later that week I had my nose pierced and then I dyed my hair purple. A few weeks later someone told me about a book called Beyond Chocolate. This was the big change. I bought the book that same day from Amazon and the day it arrived I started reading it. I could tell straight away that this book would change my life. I bought it for my sister-in-law the following day. Before I had finished reading the book, I had already made such big changes in my eating and thinking that I hardly recognised myself. This blog is going to be my account of how this life change is progressing. It will include the highs and the inevitable lows. I hope it will help other people in their journey toward a healthy relationship with food, and if nothing else, help me to own my thoughts and feelings in a way my personal journal can't. I've never blogged before so I have no idea what the right and wrong ways are. I will just blag my way through it and see what happens.