I started my first diet at the age of 14. I was feeling unconfident. I was probably getting to the stage that many teenage girls go through and comparing myself to my friends I felt huge. I wasn’t; I was perfectly fine. But, I wanted to lose weight and so I embarked on the Rosemary Conley Hip and Thigh Diet. It was a revolutionary diet at the time and it focused on the areas that I was unhappy with (and if I’m honest, still am) and so that was that. I can’t remember how much weight or inches I lost; probably not a huge amount as I didn’t have a huge amount to lose but it was the start of a lifelong cycle of dieting – Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Rosemary Conley, GI Diet, Slimming World again, – gaining weight, dieting for a special occasion or because it was a new year or summer was looming. I can’t remember a single year in the last 30 when I haven’t embarked on some sort of regime to lose weight and achieve that ever-elusive goal of feeling happy with my body.
I can count on one hand the number of times when I have felt happy with myself: when I went on holiday in 1996 and met K, I was happy and confident and I look back at the time as my golden year; when I was pregnant with A, I remember feeling proud of my body as I didn’t go crazy eating everything I could lay my hands on as I did when I was expecting T and I felt good – I was still huge but in a definitely pregnant way and not in a “is she just fat?” way; when I got married I felt alright, but I can vividly remember feeling unhappy with my upper arms. The rest was OK as I was in a boned dress which held me in and an a-line skirt covered my legs and bum. It was just my arms that were on show and I was very conscious of them. What an awful thing to have as a resounding memory from a very special day.
So, in 30 years of dieting I can pinpoint around 3 times when I have felt good-ish about myself. I have had mini-moments at other times I’m sure, maybe on a night out in a new top or a pair of jeans that fitted well, but never for any prolonged periods of time, and the times when I have gone out feeling dreadful and wishing I was somewhere else – preferably at home in my pyjamas – far outweigh those mini-moments.
I know that there are exercise regimes that promise to sort out my thighs or my upper arms, that I could lose half a stone or more by following a diet plan, or by starting running. But I have reached the ripe old age of 44 and I have realised that I am probably never going to be happy with my body. So why am I still trying to remedy this? Why am I making myself feel unwell by starting yet another healthy eating regime (when I already eat pretty darn healthily anyway and it only messes up my system and flares up my tummy troubles)? I have had the worst week with my tummy since April last year and I can pinpoint it to a drastic change in my diet. It makes me feel debilitated and stops me wanting to go anywhere or see anyone. It stops me wanting to go for walks and it stops me wanting to make plans. How is that going to make me happy? Simple answer: it’s not. And if I’m still not going to be happy with my body after it all (based on the last 30 years) then why am I doing it?
The answer: I am obsessed with the scales and with being a “good” weight. This for me has always been the holy grail. I can put chunky arms and wobbly thighs to the back of my mind if the scales are saying the right things. And they can kill a good mood like switching off a light: I can wake up feeling pretty good, the sun is shining (not today obvs) and I’ve slept OK (again, not today) but then I go and step on the scales and BOOM I will be almost in tears of despair. All because of some numbers on a small battery operated machine. I have a set of numbers in my head and if the scales don’t show something between those numbers then I feel worthless, useless, hopeless. Even if I had previously been feeling relatively comfortable, relatively healthy. And it’s only those numbers that make me embark on regimes and make me stop eating things that aren’t bad but which are deemed off limits by the people in the know – the people who run diet clubs, the people with a new book to sell or a new DVD to promote.
So, rather than end up with pains and a bloated stomach that can’t be contained, but that was previously not that bad really, just not perfect and never will be (hallelujah – it’s only taken 30 years), I am ditching the scales. I am ditching the diet books. I am going to teach myself to not flinch when I look in the mirror, I am going to be nicer to me. I am going to make myself look at the bits I don’t like and try and see them as just little minor imperfections, little flaws that make up ME. If someone gives me a compliment (here’s hoping) I will thank them graciously and maybe even make a mental note of it so that I can drag it out to cheer myself up with when the new tactics are struggling a little.
But mainly I am going to just stop trying to make myself into something I will never be: stop comparing myself to people who are 3 feet shorter or 2 feet taller or just basically an entirely different person to me. I can only compare me to me and I’m not even going to do that anymore – no more comparing the me of now to the me of my twenties or the me of my thirties. I am me as I am now and I am going to try and be happy with it. Bye bye scales and diet books. From now on it’s me and …….just me.