For years and years there have been girly conversations I have not been permitted access to. Three girls standing round a mirror getting ready for a night out talking about diets and exercise plans. Or in changing room talking about Atkins or Davina’s Little Black Dress DVD. The bonding that happens there. The reassurance and the advice, because they are all bigger than they’d like to be.
I can’t contribute to this conversation. My opinions can’t be welcome. I’m not recognised as part of that club. I don’t have entry: I’m so lucky to be thin. I’m so lucky to be able to eat what I want. I’m so lucky. Those are the words that keep me out.
A conversation I have had a thousand times is the chat about boobs. No one wants boobs as small as mine, but theirs are too big and I don’t understand what a hassle it is. I’m so lucky.
Growing up, I didn’t feel so lucky. The Dove “everyone is beautiful” campaign came out a bit too late for me as a teen and even when it did I noticed that it didn’t include flat-chested skinny girls. Flat-chested skinny girls were used for eating disorder posters. Looking wan with limp hair. Kate Moss was the ideal in the 90s. Skinny, but with boobs and a tan. I was no Kate Moss. Real Women have curves. Apparently real women aren’t ironing boards with peas and no hips. Thanks very much.
Now, I am very aware that this is a lot of complaining and whining about not very much. My body works. My body is healthy and can fight illness and can be clothes from most high street stores for not a huge sum of money and I don’t have people looking sideways at me on the tube for not fitting into the seats, or for eating a sausage roll or for taking the bus for a short distance. I know this. I know this. I am very very grateful to be able to breeze through life without people making comments because I am too big for their opinions. I have been very grateful for this for the three decades I have been eating chocolate chip cookies on a sofa.
What I’m also aware of is that I’m getting older. I’m getting older and things are changing. I came very late to the skinny jeans trend, because my calves have always been too big to get into them. I threw away photos of my weird-trouser phase when I would wear dresses and look like a mountainous lump because I didn’t know how to Dress My (new) Shape. I am no longer the thin rake-like girl of uniform days.
I’ve tried to have this conversation a few times with friends and it’s been shut down really quickly. Apparently there’s nothing on me, they don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m being ridiculous, I’m tiny and should eat another biscuit and have I looked at how massive they are? And as well meaning as that is, it’s stung. I still don’t have access to that conversation. I’m not big enough yet. Even though I’m bigger than I would like to be. Not all over, but big enough. The implication is that if I think *I’m* too big, then I must think *they’re* massive. And I don’t, I’d just like to talk about how I’m getting bigger and a little displeased about it without making anyone else feel uncomfortable. It’s difficult. Talking about bodies and size and fat is so FRAUGHT with emotion and judgement and complexity if you are a woman. This is not how men talk about bodies.
A few years ago I did the Shine Night Walk Marathon for Cancer Research. Walking, I could do. I was horribly horribly afraid of it, but I reckoned I could at the very least walk for cancer research if my dad had brain cancer. There was a 12 week plan, which I more or less followed. I was vexed, to say the least, to find that I did not transform into a lissom tanned Northern-Irish-accented Heidi Klum. That was my first clue that something was…off. I’d never lost weight before, but when I moved to London and ate about 12 (count ‘em – TWELVE) croissants a week in a size six jumper, I was doing no exercise at all (unless you count walking between Gregg’s and Starbucks in the morning before work. They are less than 50 yards apart). Now I was walking 60 miles a week, on no croissants and eating vegetables. I was the same size. I stayed the same size. I didn’t want to be a different size, but it was an interesting fact.
I don’t walk those miles any more. I don’t eat those croissants any more. I do eat a lot of vegetables. I’m aware of and grateful for my body and I know how tough it is when your body can’t look after itself. I owe it to myself (and to the NHS) to stay as healthy as I can without becoming miserable. Let’s be real here, celery is incredibly depressing.
Months back I started schlepping a Tupperware of vegetables for lunch rather than sandwiches or pasta. I cut back on cakes and biscuits. BACK, not OUT. This was still quite a shock to people. Friends commented that they didn’t know who I was any more in this new actually-just-the-one-slice guise. That felt a bit weird. Was my personality made up with GREEDY and DECADENT? Was that all there was to me? Obviously not, as I still complained and hogged the conversation and tried to be funny (my actual personality traits, which I do try and change), but it happened enough times with enough different people (colleagues, family, friends, acquaintances) that it gave me pause for thought.
After being exhausted for a few months that was down to my utter lack of protein, I realised I didn’t actually know how to feed myself as a grown adult woman who doesn’t eat all the cakes, so asked a collection of friends who were on weight loss programmes, or had personal trainers, or who had children how they eat and how they know what to eat. Slimmers’ World (I don’t know where the apostrophe should go), Weight Watchers, that beardy man off Instagram, Deliciously Ella, The Hemsley Sisters…all different information.
A friend of mine said she was going to start a plan – Lean for Life – which took all the thinking and calculating out of it. THIS IS PERFECT, I thought. Yes, sign me up. I want someone to tell me exactly what to eat so that I know I have sufficient protein.
I was EXCITED about this. This was a plan that was going to HELP ME get myself organised FOR LIFE. It was a relief to have someone tell me what to do. I picked the book up out of the library and saw a shiny haired smiley lady happy to eat salad. Oh yes!
Then I looked through the book and spotted that there were NO POTATOES (sweet potatoes do not count, sorry) in the recipes. I checked. I looked twice, three times. Not only were there no potatoes, but carbs seemed quite thin on the ground actually. And, from what I had learnt from my friend with the personal trainer, there didn’t seem to be enough protein in the recipes for me. Okay, okay. Fine. I can do this. None of the breakfast options appealed to me, but maybe I could just get over my weird oat-aversion. After all, porridge is just wet Hobnobs.
Then I looked at the chapter on exercise. Aha. This…was a little less reassuring. Fifteen minutes a day, no break in between. How hard could it be? I found an exercise and was instantly perplexed by the instructions. “Open your hips” was one.
What? How do you do that?
I tried a few of them and with each one, I got more and more frustrated. A Iot like when I tried aerobics for two years at school and every time would trip on something, rather than executing the grapevine like the other girls. I couldn’t do the exercises. This woman, this lovely smiling shiny woman, could do them and I was a chubby lump who didn’t even KNOW how to open her hips and could only think about mashed potato.
Over the next couple of days I would resolutely read through the book and try to see how I could do it. And then I would be in tears. I had a proper not-sure-where-it-came-from meltdown. I was going to get fat and stay fat and not know how to fix it if I couldn’t even follow this book. I had tried doing ALL THE EXERCISE and that had done nothing. Perhaps it had built muscle, but it hadn’t looked that way and the muscle certainly hadn’t stuck around. I had tried EATING ALL THE VEGETABLES and that had done even less. I didn’t know who I was, what I was about to become or how to stop it, if I wanted.
On top of that, I felt terribly guilty for having told my friend I would do the plan with her and we could support each other. Failing at eating, exercising and being a good friend. That really helped motivate me.
It’s been a few weeks since having a meltdown and I’ve relaxed a bit. I’m still Concerned that I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ve realised that these plans aren’t for me. I really do need to put a proper exercise plan in place and take my personality into account. If I have a reason to look good (a holiday, a fancy event), then I will put in 80 sit-ups and crunches a day until I have abs, but I can’t do it every day. If I don’t do it every day, it’s too easy to just…not. I like to walk, so I need to really reset my schedule so that I can walk to work in the morning. I’m not going to buy kit, I’m not going to go to a gym, I’m not going to do something that costs unnecessary cash. It’ll annoy me and I won’t do it. But I do need to do something.
My recipe book is now a folder with sections and pristine recipe sheets. I’m quite pleased with this. I am full of excitement for trying new recipes and actually sticking to meal plans. I’m trying very hard to have protein with every meal (thank God for eggs, is all I can say. So easy!) and cut down on the carbs with them. I’ve stopped eating five fruit AND five veg a day, because apparently that wasn’t quite right and meant I was either buying produce or chopping produce for hours a day.
I haven’t worked out what to do about cake and biscuits. I’m still a mad sugar fiend. I just like it. The idea of not eating cake, or worse – eating cake made of beetroot and broken dreams pretending to taste ‘just like chocolate’ – is not for me. But I do need to eat a lot less of them. Unfortunately, I will buy these delicious Mr Kipling things when I am sad or annoyed or frustrated. I will also eat them all. I can’t seem to say no. I do actually feel better. I don’t tend to feel remorseful.
This bit of adulthood I haven’t quite cracked yet.