New Year/New You, right? Time to waste money on that Gym membership you will use only for the first month and go on that yo-yo, fad diet that will take a few pounds off before you put them back on in February. That used to be me. It would have continued to be me if my life hadn’t imploded.
Envy. It’s something we have all noticed. No sooner than a plus sized blogger posts an image of themselves looking fashionable and happy than the well-meaning, health conscious, thin trolls appear. Fat people clearly can’t be happy because they’re FAT. Only thin people have the right to be HAPPYTM. Afterall, hadn’t they suffered to be thin? Sacrificed years of their lives in the gym, obsessively counted every calorie, rejected sweets, bread, cheeeeeeeese – all to be thinner. And once they are thin they will be happy, right? But here’s this fat chick who has the GALL to reject everything they stand for, everything the Diet Industry and Big Advertising has convinced them of, laughing in the face of all their hard work and commitment. How DARE they be happy?
A fat woman – no, ANY person of any gender who is content without conforming is an affront.
So much of our identities are controlled by society’s definition of body image. Fiji did not have eating disorders before the introduction of TV in 1995. But, 38 months after mainstream American TV programmes arrived, 74% of girls reported that they felt they were too fat and 15% admitted to vomiting to control their weight. We “in-group” and we “out-group”. Those who look like us, dress like us, eat like us are “in” and those who are different are “out”. In pursuit of maintaining “in” status with our friends, be seen as promotable in the office, to obtain health care from our doctors, be attractive to what we believe are potential mates, we jump through the hoops created by industries dependant on lowering self-esteem to sell product. Negative sales campaign disguised as aspiration. Which is why there is such anger and resistance to those who take a step back and shout “I’M OUT!”
In 2010, I was UNHAPPY. I worked in IT as a Full Stack Developer. Misogyny in the workplace was my life – #MeToo does not even begin to skirt the edges. I was just about to complete a degree in Psychology, whilst working in a mix full time and contracting, to assist fighting with schools every day for provision for my two children who are both on the spectrum. After 10 years of misdiagnosis, countless invasive procedures, years of special prescribed diets, the doctors diagnosed Type II and essentially washed their hands. And my husband was both unsupportive and unsympathetic. I was also 19 stone.
On a rare night off I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of old friends. In the space of 30 minutes, I had the same conversation one right after the other. Both were in unhappy marriages and were both desperate to leave. I asked both why they hadn’t left and they both gave me the same answer; I have no place to go. They were staying in loveless, failed relationships, unhappy, miserable because… fear? Was that it? Was I afraid to be happy?
What would happen if I stopped doing the things that made me miserable?
Now it’s easy to say quit your job, get divorced, start a business, stand up to authority and take control of your health issues… But I did. Not all at once mind but as each change came I began to give one shit less what how my behaviour should be governed by other people’s expectations. And that was HUGE! My son came up to me one morning upset and asked me “What’s wrong?” He was clearly disturbed. “You’re smiling,” he said. “I have never seen you smile like that.” I had been thinking about creating my own lingerie line, something that was empowering, creative and gave me joy. My son had never seen me happy. And I realised that I, we all have a responsibility to seek joy so that we teach others how. So the first big secret on how to lose weight is to…
1. Stop Being Miserable.
Wherever possible remove the things from your life that stress you out. It won’t be easy. But a first step is to recognise the “in-group” or people around you and their values. Stop listening to what the advertising conglomerate is telling you and start listening to yourself. What are the things that you love? What are the things that stress you out? Get rid of toxic relationships. You don’t need them as much as they need you.
2. Smell The Roses, But Don’t Inhale
I stopped dieting entirely. Pointless waste of time and through shows like The Biggest Loser we now have empirical proof that crash dieting not only does not work is also permanently harmful. Ended my memberships to Slimming World and Weight Watchers. Paul McKenna has a weight loss program called, I Can Make You Thin. I DON’T recommend it. But, I did find ONE part of it helpful.
The stomach can take a minimum of 20 minutes to communicate fullness to the brain. But we live in a stressful world where we have often less than 10 minutes to eat and get back to work/kids/train. Because we have so little time to eat, we still feel hungry despite being full. We just don’t know we are full. So we keep eating until the signal gets there and then find we are stuffed. Plus, we have the guilt of having to finish everything on your plate, the shame of wasting food by throwing it away.
Solution: Eat whatever you want whenever you want it. Slow down and taste every morsel! ENJOY IT! Halfway through, ask yourself, “Am I full?” If not, continue revelling in every bite until there is half left and ask again. Not “Have I had enough?” but, “Am I done?” When you are finished, stop. That’s it. And for everything else there is clingfilm.
I went from being able to scarf an entire pint of ice cream to a scoop is more than enough. An entire bag of Doritos to a couple of handfuls. I just don’t want more. Still going to eat my fav foods at 3 am. I am listening to my body and eating the chocolate.
3. Dance Naked In Your Lounge
Just like every other overweight person I was asked by my doctor, “Have you tried joining a gym?” The last gym I joined had insufficient light on their stairs which were also not marked. I tripped and dislocated both shoulders, wrenched a knee and sprained an ankle. The irony does NOT escape me.
“Why not get a dog?” Like everything that is wrong with your health will be improved by canines. This is #MouseTheMerciless. She is the size of a cat. Now, what I have learned about pet ownership is; cats are for ennui and dogs are for pure unadulterated joy. I have Fibromyalgia, so I chose the size of dog to fit my garden. On days when I am locked up, she has a good sized garden to run and play in. I also have others in my life who can take her out. But I am still incensed that rather than suggest anything practical, my health care practitioners only suggestions were gym and dog. When most people work in excess of 10 hours a day at a desk (cause lets be honest you have your lunch there and work late most days too), we have to start looking at creating different ways and forms of exercising that fit around our lives and bring us the same kind of joy that my dog does.
I can’t afford builders or carpenters or gardeners so on good days I DIY. When no one is around I turn on Wii Dance (I’m not very good at it). When it’s not tipping it down I take #MouseTheMerciless to get muddy in the country park. Or to play fetch by the riverside (I throw the ball, she catches it then races in an oblong direction and drops it. So in fact, I am doing the fetching.) I have friends who go LARPing most weekends which amounts to running around a forest in costumes waving foam swords at each other. I have another friend who is a Morris Dancer (to each their own). I have friends who have a tandem – I think it’s because they believe two half sober riders = one sober bike.
I love my dog but I don’t love the gym. One needs more care than I alone can give and the other isn’t right for me. FM makes me struggle with getting enough of any type of exercise so I deiced to do the things I love because that’s the only thing that motivates me and outweighs the pain. Plus DIY is far more profitable than wasting money on an expensive gym membership and clubs where they fat shame/weigh you every week.
4. Wear Your Joy (and I shall wear midnight…)
So much of our self-confidence is based on appearance. How you present yourself to the world also can change how you feel about yourself. I started making lingerie because in 2012 there were next to no options for plus size that I could feel confident in to wear on a date. Or take off on a date. Dressing simply with style is very different from dressing designer and the main difference is one you can do on a dime. There is thankfully more choice today than even 5 years ago.
I knew a woman who had copper red hair and always wore the same shade of purple; shirts, trousers, shoes, dresses, etc… Other mothers on the playground would call her “eccentric” but in private would admit to me they envied her bravery in knowing and living her style. Clothing is our suit of armour, the first message we shout to the world, so even if it is the same outfit day after day – make it one that brings you joy. As I keep telling my interns to stop referring to the trend monitoring sites, “We aren’t here to follow fashion. Our job is to set it.” Again it’s taking a step into that “out-group”. It’s scary being out there, but the more you face and conquer the little fears, the small everyday changes, the easier it becomes to look at the big ones and figure them out. Start small. Be Batman.
It Took Time
2010 I was 19 stone. Seven years later and without deliberately trying or taking the usual routes I am now 14 stone. In those seven years, my weight did not yo-yo but steadily went down and stayed off avoiding damaging my metabolism, gall and kidney stones and a host of other associated health problems. I went from a size UK26/28 trouser to a size UK16. I did not set out to lose weight. I set out to get rid of the things that made me miserable. Not to become happy. Happy is not something I can control. But what I found was being less miserable meant I enjoyed life more. I did not need to stress eat or binge as often. When I did hit the Haggen Daas I didn’t inhale it. I LOVED every minute and spoonful and did not abuse the privilege that I have to even be able to buy it. To be able to exercise regularly is also a privilege I don’t want to waste on activities in atmospheres that lower my self-esteem. I treat myself better.
Self-esteem is a funny phrase. Being proud of myself took a long road and a lot of risks. I am never going to make everyone happy and trying to be “in” in every “in-group”, to please everyone all the time and lose weight to allow them to maintain their false sense self-esteem was only making me miserable.
So how did I lose 5 stone forever without dieting and a gym membership? I learned to appreciate everything around me and cut out the things that made me miserable.