Time for Part 4. I hope I've given a pretty thorough summary of all the ways my life was being crippled by both my diet habits and my whole health outlook! If you want more information just let me know ;). The challenging part is that even though all this stuff was going on - even though I was making all these compromises - because I wasn't actually really underweight, and because so many of my habits co-incided with what people are told is healthy, I never really got the push to change. I just sort of carried on, aware that I wasn't my best in some ways, but convinced that being super thin made it all worth it. Besides how could a diet of oatmeal and salad be wrong? It's what all the celebrities eat after all!
It was only when I considered the following factors that I really started to change my habits... These things were the push (or neon flashing signs, if you will) that I needed...
I started realising how sick I was making myself;
Well I didn't get sick exactly, but I got my hormones way out of whack. At first I didn't worry about this too much. Annoyingly neither did most medical experts I spoke to. They just asked me if I'd lost weight recently, I said 'yeah a bit' and they just said they were sure it would sort itself out soon. This went on for about a year and a half! They then decided I must have PCOS, as there were signs of some cysts on my ovaries in some scans. This was despite the fact that I wasn't overweight, I didn't suffer from excess body hair, and I didn't get excruciating period pains or any of the other classic symptoms.
The PCOS theory meant they did scan after scan, and because some showed I had cysts (most women have cysts at some point in their lives), they re-iterated this must be the cause. The long and short of it is, because I wasn't technically under weight, no-one really considered the idea that my stupidly over the top health regime could be causing the problems. No-one even asked. It was only when I realised that my hormones seemed to sort themselves out a certain times of the year, usually around Christmas, and started doing some research into the Weston Price Foundation style of eating as well as reading books like 'The Diet Cure' that I began to accept what was actually happening. A combination of looking at the wrong people to be my body role models, and the wrong people to give me advice about what was healthy, had led me adopt a totally compromised eating style that was damaging me instead of helping me out.
The other health issue related to my bones. I really wanted to sort my hormones out, but the more I read about bone health the more that started freaking me out as well. Having low levels of estrogen is very dangerous and this is not a joke! At first I was a bit like 'osteoporosis/ schmosteoporosis' - my family history meant the only sickness that really concerned me was cancer. I was like 'So what - my bones will be a little weak'. Then I started reading more about it. Osteoporosis does not just leave you vulnerable to breaks - it is really painful pretty much all of the time. If you have ever suffered backache you know how crippling numb and constant pain can be. If you get osteoporosis when you are 60 that is NOT fun. Do you want to work hard all your life, only to be imprisoned and aching throughout your retirement? The answer is 'no, you do not'.
Unfortunately for me, even my short period of not treating my body properly, may have done some damage. I have the beginings of osteopenia in my spine and very slight levels in my hip and neck. Its really difficult to tell whether this is due to my diet or genetic inclination (if you are pale skinned and have a slight build you are more prone), but I know that I don't want to take any further chances.
I got bored;
Bored with worrying, bored with the understanding that I was wasting all my reading time hashing over the same facts, bored with the realisation that I could be learning a billion fascinating facts about the world (or at least stuff that would actually encourage good health) and instead I was just reading about low calorie breakfasts. Or stressing that I ate two servings of fat free cookies instead of one.
I started thinking about all the books I am desperate to read, but never seem to get the chance. (I'm a total bookworm at heart). I then realised if I wasn't re-reading some cr*p macrobitoic mannual I would actually have the time to read this stuff!
I also started thinking about how I would want to look back on my life and youth - what I would want to tell my kids I focussed my time on reading? What would I want to talk about with my boyfriend? Diet plans in glossy magazines or books about different times, different people, different cultures? This is the thing I love about the Weston A Price Foundation and also some of the stuff I learn from Bauman College; it is not just little facts about calories, its anthropology and it's real health. Putting the health side of it into action actually helps me to feel better and helps my mind to work better.
There is also so much of it, that I can learn new stuff all the time and not just re-memorise the amount of fat in a tin of tuna. That's the other great thing about focussing on health and real food studies- its so much wider and its of interest to so many more people. My fiancee will probably never care about juicing beetroot, but he might be interested to know why people in Japan live so long or the politics of fish and the history of fertilizer (okay, that sounds weird but its interesting I swear!). This is even stuff you could talk about on a first date without coming across like some weird version of Victoria Beckham .... which might happen if you start talking about the carbs in sushi. Being interesting is a billion times better, sexier and more of an achievement, than being thin!
I looked to the people I know who are happiest;
This was a big one. For way too long I equated being thin with being happy and confident. I thought if I stopped being so thin I would lose all my confidence. People commented on being thin so much that it became a really big part of my identity and I thought I would be lost without it. All celebrities are thin and aren't all celebrities happy? (The answer to the second part of that is a pretty obvious no, by the way).
Then I started looking around me at my friends, my colleagues, people I knew by association. Sure the ones who took care of themselves were happier on the whole - we live in a kind of shallow society and also being healthy and exercising raising your endorphins. I think being overweight can make happiness more challenging for a number of reasons - but being super thin? No way.
The people who I know who are the happiest seem to be those who build up good social networks, balance hanging out with other people with quieter times and treat other people well (though not the extent of being a dormat!).
Most of all though, they are the people with a good outlook on life. The phrase 'Life is 90% attitude, 10% circumstance' could not be more true. Happiness is a decision - and one that is far easier to make when your body has the nutrients it needs. Although I was always a pretty happy person I realised being thin wasnt making me happy. In fact it was making being happy harder.
(I was also, in my guise as a public sector worker, relieved to realise it wasn't my richest friends who were necessarily the happiest either!).
I started taking an interest in other aspects of my looks;
Okay, this is super shallow and I appreciate that in some way its just replacing one inane concern with another. But hear me out! When I was eating a lot more restrictively, that was my main focus looks wise. I concentrated my effort into being thin and wasn't very inventive (or dilligent) when it came to makeup and hair. I felt I always looked okay, because I always looked thin. Now I no longer have that default it has actually made me a more creative person when it comes to making the most of myself.
When you are very thin you do also feel all clothes look good. (They don't necessarily look good - you just look more like a typical emaciated model when you wear them). It can be hard transitioning from being able to wear literally anything to actually having to consider your body shape. But there is nothing wrong or scary about that! I don't feel comfortable wearing just leggings and skin tight vest tops out clubbing any more. However, I look a billion times better in anything that shows cleavage. I also look more feminine in dresses and it's nice finding things that work with my body shape and accentuate my better features.
Its also nice being able to eat normally when I go to restaurants in afore mentioned outfits.
I fell in love with food;
Yeah, this was the clincher if I'm honest. It started off with me falling in love with a guy who is in love with food, but it ended with me falling in love with food.
Don't get me wrong - I always loved healthy food. I had also eaten a low fat diet for so long, that salad without oil in the dressing actually tastes fine to me. I love frozen yogurt, fat free muffins and all those other diet foods. However, your life is pretty restrictive when you are aiming for under 1600 calories per day and there is only so much stuff you can enjoy. It took a few close together holidays, in places where there was great food everywhere that I loved, but a pretty meagre selection of low calorie delights, to realise life is too short to be on vigilant look out the whole time. To be totally honest though it also took the realisation that I could eat out and I could eat this food, and - so long as I ate plenty of protein and fat and was reasonable about my portions - nothing bad was going to happen. On most holidays I even lost a pound or two (once I reached a normal weight!)
Not only does being more open minded about what and how much you eat translate to more fun ordering in restaurants, it also makes evening cooking a do-able activity. There is something really fun about choosing a great recipe (make sure you use a recipe source whose health foundations you agree with!), putting on some music, opening a bottle of 'cooking wine' and creating your own masterpiece. Plus, if you use butter you wont make all your pans go gnarly! AND if its the weekend you can make a dessert too (just remember to offload the extras onto your friends!).
Wow, looking back at the list I've tried to make it sound so easy. In some ways this is misleading. Once I started the ball rolling it was easy, but I did have definitely have moments of reconsidering. I used to think that everybody would notice every kg I gained or lost (trust me, no-one else cares!) and so I did have a few freakout moments. Its also such an easy thing to revert to thinking about dieting before a special event. This is particularly peritent right now with my wedding coming up! AND there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your total best before a big event. I'd by lying if I said I wasn't going to change my eating habits in the week leading up to my little white dress moment. However, I wont be eating only steamed brocolli and chicken breast, OR doing maple syrup fasts. Instead I'll try to eliminate grains and definitely sugar, and eat plenty of protein and fat - including oily fish which always seems to have an awesome and immediate effect on my appearance.
If you have identified with anything I've said in the past, I really hope you can also identify with some of the tips I've given here. If you need any pointers regarding my favourite recipes to get you obsessed with foods tomorrow I'll give a quick list.
I'll close with the final recommendation that anyone who still needs a conversion to the idea of putting food pleasure first, who lives anywhere (I am talking like a 200 mile radius) near San Fransisco, MUST go to Tartine. It was there that I fell in love with a sandwich, the portrait of which you see below. I would happily look like Roseanne and live in perjury if I could eat that sandwich every day... That was when I knew I had changed :) xox