Why I don’t believe in the “before” and “after” picture
So many of my childhood memories are linked to food.
Childhood to me was candy floss at the fairground, toffee apples around the bonfire, and ice cream melting down my fingers on a scorching day in London.
The sniff of a freshly baked loaf, and I’m back in my granny’s kitchen, spreading equal amounts of butter and jam enthusiastically. A hint of peppermint, and there I am making peppermint creams, standing on a chair, licking the spoon, and disappearing into a puff of sweet, magical icing sugar.
Childhood was the cupcakes eaten with my mama in the park, as we chatted after a rubbish day at school, happily licking buttercream frosting from our lips.
I remember devouring heavenly midnight feasts of bread and cream cheese at boarding school, and discovering the unique, adolescent joys of a no-bake chocolate fridge cake.
Back then, food was happiness. It was comforting. It was fun. It was nothing but wonderful.
And then guilt slowly started to trickle in. Quietly, and unnoticed at first, it appeared like a subtle shadow flickering at dusk, finding its way into my life through the little comments I heard directed at me, or just picked up along the way.
The childish sponge I was absorbed it all.
They were the women I heard declaring how naughty they were, as they reached for another chocolate, complaining in whispers that they were so fat. There were the teenagers I heard bragging about the latest diet, fawning over the ‘inspirationally’ skinny models in magazines. They were the woman who told me not to worry, that the puppy weight would go away eventually, or the boy who told me I looked like a fat pig.
And then, all of sudden, the guilt stopped lurking in the shadows and appeared, revealing itself. A very real, heavy presence, watching over everything, observing every bite.
Having always been an overweight child who always ate a lot and loved food, I went to boarding school aged 11, and missed home desperately. I was teased about my weight, and slowly learnt that food was something to be feared, not celebrated. Losing weight became something to aim for, and I quickly came to understand that being overweight was a “bad thing”. A nickname about my weight made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, teaching me from a very young age that being fat was the worst possible thing anyone could be.
Food had stopped being a gloriously fun innocent pleasure, and it now had a sinister sheen to it. The veil of the childhood innocence had been lifted, and food would never be the same. It was now something I needed to earn, to restrict, to measure, and to punish myself with.
Food had become something I could control.
This is just part of my tale, the tip of the iceberg, and I’m sure everyone has their own story when it comes to food. Each relationship is different, each is valid, and all are uniquely personal. Our relationship with food is complicated, deeply rooted, and heavily influenced by both society and the media.
In today’s world, every meal comes with a side order of guilt. In a society where thinness is held up as the ultimate ideal, every bite of pudding is seen to be taking you further and further away from what we should all look like. Every mouthful needs to be monitored, earned, and justified, both to others and to ourselves.
Too many of us are trapped in the never-ending cycle of yo-yo dieting: the punishment, the restriction, the inflexible food rules, the inevitable bingeing that follows, and then the vow to do better next time, to be better next time, when start again on Monday.
I don’t know about you lot, but I for one have had enough.
Food is not meant to be feared in this way. I resent that we have ended up here. As someone who loves food, and is truly passionate about cooking, I’m so sad we are where we are.
This way of living requires too much time, too much energy, too many sacrifices, and when all is said and done, it’s just not bloody worth it.
The last 18 years have taught me that even when you get “there” (wherever that might be), it doesn’t magically make you happy.
Happiness is not determined by the number on the scale or the size of your clothes, and believing that is where all the answers lie, is really a way of avoiding the real reason you may be miserable.
We all deserve to eat without guilt, and the soul destroying internal battle we constantly wage with ourselves over food.
Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but at the end of the day, food is just food. It shouldn’t be given the power to determine the kind of person you are, or the kind of day you will have. It’s time to stop feeling guilty over food.
A few years ago I had a lightbulb moment.
In a drastic effort to get the body I thought I’d always wanted, I embarked on a 12 week transformation program at a gym. I had a trainer who told me how much I should be eating, and he got me on an intensive exercise regime. I was to track and record my weight, my steps, and my food intake every day. Every calorie was accounted for, and every morsel that touched my lips was recorded.
I worked out 5 times a week, and had to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. I found it hard, really hard. I was hungry all the time, and whenever it got too much (which was pretty often), I’d wolf down packets of biscuits, or devour boxes of doughnuts.
My trainer would despair at my lack of willpower, and I would vow to do better.
I wasn’t losing weight fast enough, and it was demoralizing and miserable. I stopped socializing, and became obsessed with counting calories and hitting my steps target over everything else in my life.
The breakthrough happened when I got pneumonia. I was bed-bound for 2 weeks, and was barely able to lift my head from the pillow. I felt so ill, but I also felt guilty that I wasn’t in the gym. As soon as I was able to, I got right back in there and started working out again.
I had lost a lot of weight – hardly surprising when you’re so ill you can’t eat, can’t think and can barely talk, right?
For the first time, the trainers in the gym told me I looked great. I was finally lean, and they were gushing that all the hard work was paying off. Only it wasn’t “hard work” that had got me here – I HAD PNEUMONIA.
But my transformation was complete, and I had hit my “goal weight”. They took the “after” pictures to compare to my “before” picture. I had abs for the first time in my life, but you could also see my ribs which protruded out, and made me feel sad looking at them. My periods had stopped, which terrified me, and I could see that I was far too thin.
I didn’t want to wear the clothes I excitedly thought i’d be wearing once I’d reached the end of my transformation programme. I covered up in baggy jumpers, and felt as insecure and as miserable as I had “before”. I shook myself, saying “sssh stop being silly, you’re so skinny! THIS IS WHAT HAPPY FEELS LIKE”.
Only it wasn’t, and I knew it.
In that moment everything changed for me. I went home and ate and ate and ate. After a few months, I was back to where I was nearly back to where I was “before”.
I made a decision. Enough was enough. I know knew what it took for me to get the “ideal” body, and guess what? It took too much time, too much effort, and too much bloody sacrifice. Life is about so much more than our weight on the scale, and the number of calories in the food we eat.
I made a huge effort to change the way I saw things. I had been trapped in a miserable cycle of dieting, and it’s no surprise with all the bullshit flying around about the food we should eat and the way we should look.
But I refuse to be told what I should or shouldn’t eat anymore.
I don’t want to miss out on things because I feel crap about myself, and so I choose to be happy with the way I am. Since the moment I made this decision, my life has become immeasurably better. The hours I spent obsessing over food, feeling guilty, and hating the way I look were wasted, but I refuse to waste another moment.
For me, body positivity is about embracing the skin you’re in, and refusing to be made to feel bad about the way you look.
Now, there are no “good” or “bad” foods. The only things that matter are how the foods taste and how they make me feel. These two things should work in tandem most of the time, but don’t necessarily need to for every single thing I eat.
And it’s a lesson that so many of us can learn.
For example, you may know that doughnuts ultimately make you feel a bit lethargic, or maybe the sugar has an impact on your skin. BUT they taste absolutely delicious, so you like eating them. And that’s totally 100% okay!
The moment we label a food “good” or “bad”, it brings with it judgment, and a great big hunkering wagon which you can fall off if you eat those terribly naughty “bad” foods.
Get rid of the labels, get rid of the wagon. That way there’s no judgment – it just comes down to the choices that you make for yourself about what makes you feel good, and what tastes great.
Label a food as “bad” and ban it from your life, and you know that that food will end up consuming your thoughts. You wont be able to stop thinking about it, and when you finally crack, which you undoubtedly will because we’re all human, you’ll probably end up overindulging and bingeing.
I don’t think we realise how much damage we’re doing to ourselves by talking about food in this way.
I certainly didn’t for a really long time, but once I became aware, I noticed how these messages are all around us. Sometimes they’re quiet whispers, sometimes they’re as subtle as a pile of bricks, but either way they’re almost entirely inescapable.
It’s time we took a stand against being told what we should and shouldn’t eat, and recognise once and for all that food isn’t good or bad…food is just food.
When we talk about food in those two terms what we’re really saying, even if we don’t realise it, is that we’re good or bad because of the food we eat. We’re buying into the fact that the food we eat has an actual bearing on the kind of person that we are, which when you think about it is kind of bizarre! I can say that, because I bought into the hype too, but no amount of wheatgrass shots will make you a saint, a good person or even a nice person(!). Likewise, eating pizza and takeaways doesn’t make you a bad person.
The food we eat doesn’t have the ability to make a moral judgment on us, and it’s time we all stopped giving it this power beyond its abilities.
I strongly believe we need to ditch the diet mentality in order to get rid of the guilt and finally, finally get back to feeling good about ourselves.
Everything we know about guilt when it comes to food we learnt from the diet industry and the diet culture we live in. Before we started spending all of our time and energy worrying about weight loss and hating our bodies, food was simple and life was better.
If we stop and think about it, our relationships with food got complicated by the all the rules we’ve been given over the years about what and how much we should eat.
Food stopped just being about pleasure and enjoyment when we listened to society telling us that we all needed to look a certain way, and that being like the thin models splashed across every magazine was the best thing we could be.
Think about it: the diet industry relies on guilt. As long as you’re dieting, you’ll never get rid of your food guilt.
So ditch the diets, and refuse to apologise for who you really are.
Are these feelings you can relate to?
I work with women one-on-one to help them learn to love the skin they’re in, no matter what. Check out my coaching plans here (I offer 90 minutes, 1 day, and 90 day options!) and subscribe here to be the first to know when my very special online course is live!
I can’t wait to hear from you and see if we can get you feeling happier, healthier, and more positive than ever before!