If you met me today, you would know me as someone who loves their food. On my recent trip to the Bay Area, I shared my food diary online. Most of the comments I got were generally really positive but there were a couple that really got to me: ‘Gaining weight just looking at your posts’ and ‘I hope you packed stretchy clothes’. To some, these might be throwaway comments not worth giving a second thought but to me these comments are the most neurotic parts of my mind coming back to haunt me.
I’ve not always had the best relationship with food. Most of my time growing up, I’d see my mum dieting and grappling with her body image. Though she never put any of her issues on to me and always told me I was beautiful, I couldn’t help picking up on the idea that ‘fat was bad’. I remember from about the age of ten feeling bigger than the other girls in my class and that’s when my relationship with food started to change.
I struggled with my enjoyment of food and the painful guilt I felt every time I ate it. At its worst, it would really negatively impact on my family. From a young age, I have been surrounded by great food – my family is full of great cooks (with the exception of my grandpa). A huge part of of our culture is cooking and eating together whatever the occasion. It’s an element of family life I adore. However when I was filled with massive anxiety about food making me bigger, I would be a horrible dinner guest. I’d resent everyone who was enjoying themselves and I couldn’t enjoy what I was eating because I was so full of angst. I still feel so much regret about the many meals I have ruined. As my weight got picked on more and more at school, my eating habits became very boom and bust: gorging in secret and eating little in front of others. That, I thought at least, would make me feel less guilty when I was eating in front of others. It didn’t though.
When I met my other half at school, my issues remained. He’d compliment me all the time and I refused to believe him. Eating together was incredibly uncomfortable for me. I’d been told so much that I was fat and disgusting that I couldn’t comprehend someone being attracted to me. It stopped me trusting him – another huge regret. When I went to university, I don’t think I ever heard a negative comment about my weight. Old habits die hard though and I still spend my time comparing myself to everyone else. Slowly though, I started to relax. I’d help my grandma cook dinner and eat with her (I lived with my grandparents during uni). I’d hang out with friends who never made an issue of my size so I felt less self-conscious.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. I went to Germany for my year abroad and ended up quite isolated in a small village. The change from London was huge and I lost my entire support network as we were placed all over the country. I became very regimented with my food – even now I could probably list what I put in my shopping basket every week. There are so many great dishes in Germany but I would stick to the same things again and again. I’d feel guilty if I was ever full. By the time I finished my year abroad, I’d dropped three dress sizes, developed anxiety and IBS and I was utterly miserable.
After uni until I hit twenty-eight, I continued these guilt cycles with food. After I sought help for my anxiety and started communicating more with my friends and family, I finally allowed myself to stop hating myself, change my relationship with food and enjoy life.
It’s an ongoing process though and sometimes I find myself in a weak moment. When those moments happen though, I take time to reflect on how far I’ve come. Getting those comments a few years ago would have sent me into a very negative spiral. Now though, I can lift my head up and just say I don’t need to worry about any of that. If I share pictures of food online, the focus is on the food not me. What happens to my body is my business and no-one else’s.