I have wanted to lose some weight for the last two years. In Spring 2018, I took anti-depressants for about six weeks, and gained two stone.
I can’t really blame the anti-depressants for the weight gain, but I can blame the binge eating I experienced due very poor mental health and lack of compassion towards my mind and body.
Two years on, I have struggled to navigate the psychological implications of losing weight and how others will perceive it. Coming from a background of a restrictive eating disorder, I have previously had very skewed perceptions of weight loss, and dieting was a negative habit for me.
Finally, I’ve had a breakthrough and realisation that I need to just do it.
*Massive disclaimer time* This blog post is entirely written from MY experience and learning. I do not have a single qualification in nutrition, diet, mental health or physiology. I would highly suggest you seek professional support if you are in a similar situation to me!*
Without going to elaborately into my past, between 2013-2016 I struggled with anorexia. Dieting and restricting my food was a very negative and addictive experience for me. I would weigh myself every single morning, and my entire mood was centred around whether my weight was “good” or “bad”. I similarly placed a massive amount of self worth on the food I ate. If I had a “good” day of eating, I felt great about myself. If I had a “bad” day of eating, I felt horribly depressed.
To recover physically and mentally from my anorexia, I had one inpatient admission and years of CBT therapy. By 2016, I gained an appropriate amount of weight to be classed as healthy for my height. I teetered right on the very cusp of a “slightly underweight” and “healthy” BMI for several years. My menstrual cycle finally returned, and I felt assured that because I was a healthy weight, I must have a healthy mind too.
Looking back, I know for sure that my perceptions were still quite disordered, and I suffered quite a fair bit with body dysmorphia. It was only when I moved to university, without my trusty bathroom scales and the addition of more spontaneous eating; that my relationship with food and my body started to blossom into something more positive.
I read up a great deal about anti-diet culture, educated myself in terms of eating disorder recovery, mental health in general and exercise. I began to appreciate my body as more than just capable of fitting in a narrow waist size. Food wasn’t good or bad, and I slowly detached my sense of self worth away from scales or image.
However, I would still occasionally have periods where my natural safety backup of food restriction kicked in. Particularly after a heavy night out or a bad body image day, I would tell myself that I need to be stricter with my eating, or start eating healthier. Small little sentiments, with an underlying tone of eat as little as you can, try to get results as quick as you can, and try to lose as much weight as you can. This was further exasperated by being in a completely new city, living a new lifestyle and latching on to any form of control.
Yet these periods of restriction lasted anything from 2 days to 2 weeks – and not much further. The thing about recovery is; once you start to experience a joyful life, and educate yourself about how food & the body really work, it’s hard to just throw that all out of the window just so you can look skinny on a night out.
I also felt like a bit of a fraud going on a diet, whilst I deep down knew that I was a relatively low weight – and I advocated recovery so much. I had a big hang up about how other people perceived me. I was so protective over my food and eating, that I didn’t want anyone to voice concerns that I was relapsing or not eating enough. If I went for a meal, I’d feel obliged to get a big portion or a “recovery style” meal, just to prove that I wasn’t unwell.
Fast forward a few years, and I am two stone heavier. I am a lot more clued up than I used to be, and I rarely associate my body with my self worth. I can weigh myself without it impacting the tone of the day, and I have finally understood the psychological and physiological mechanics of weight loss. (It’s pretty simple. Eat less calories than you burn, but don’t put yourself in so much of a deficit that you end up binging, feeling exhausted and/or making yourself ill).
But with such a positive approach towards my mind and body – WHY do I now want to lose weight? How can I be sure that this isn’t just my eating disorder creeping back in?
Simply put – I just know. I know that whilst I’ve wanted to lose weight for the last few years, it hasn’t been a burning passion. It’s been something I know I would like to do, but really couldn’t be bothered to do. I enjoy eating out, and I know that there’s no actual need for me to lose weight.
I would like to re-iterate, I am still a healthy weight for my size. I’m not overweight and I am very fit and active. I run 20-30km per week, practice yoga everyday and walk most places. I am grateful and joyful that my body is so healthy that I can do these things. There is no NEED for me to lose weight.
However, I don’t want to lose weight out of necessity. My entire eating disorder was initiated by NEEDING to lose weight as an overweight teenager, and getting carried away with it.
I love my body, but I am not happy with the way I’ve been eating. Even before lockdown, I had a very absent minded approach towards eating. I would eat out of boredom, necessity, social pressure or habit. I didn’t care what I ate, as long as it was plant based and filled me up. I also got into a negative mindset of over-eating before exercise, out of fear that I’d run out of energy or pass out mid run. I ate quite mechanically, and had little regard for what my body actually needed.
Additionally, I haven’t really felt like myself for a long time. Because I gained weight so quickly, I didn’t really have chance to adjust to it. I am very tall, and my weight is all held on my torso – my back and hips. This means I have a fairly slim build, but I am carrying a lot more fat than I am used to. Women need fat more than men, and it’s important to reiterate that there should always be some fat on our bodies.
Whilst I am confident and accepting of my body, I also know that I have the power to positively change things if I am unhappy. But this has to come from a positive place rather than negative. For me, it’s not entirely about numbers changing – it’s about getting to a mid-ground of losing some fat, maintaining health and fitness – with wiggle room for life to happen.
The lightbulb moment for me was realising that I am completely in charge of my own body and mind. Whilst others may have negative judgement about my decisions, that’s not my problem. I am the one who is responsible for losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way. I am the one who choses the food that goes into my body, and I am the one who will be the judge of how I approach weight loss.
I know from lots of experience, that heavy restriction and self hate does not equal a happy weight loss, and thus does not equal a happy mind. I know that positive changes and self respect is the most successful way of losing fat.
When you have come from a past of an eating disorder, it’s natural and important to be second guessed for your desire to lose weight. The reason it’s taken me 2 years to take action is because I feared I’d relapse, or others instructed me that I look fine and don’t need to lose any weight. My best advice would be to take this process with someone who is trained. Find a personal trainer or coach who lines up with your values. Rather than following diet info-graphics on instagram, tune into those who are approaching weight loss from a holistic and mindful place.
It’s also important to get to the point in your life where you no longer let your past negatively impact your future. If I had no history of an eating disorder, and chose to lose some fat – I wouldn’t have doubts or worried that people would think negatively of me. Yet having this background always held me back. I felt like I couldn’t be trusted to make positive decisions, as others would worry about me. It’s a step in the right direction for me to be able to have trust in my own judgement and approaches.
There’s much more to life than weight loss. But if you really want to alter your diet, develop a more positive approach towards food, and feel a little slimmer – there’s also nothing wrong with that – provided these are your decisions and not society’s.