Breaking the cycle…

So many people have asked me to write this blog and I’ve started it at least half a dozen times but the words kept getting stuck.

I think one of the reasons it’s so difficult is because I’m not sure were to start. Some of you reading this will already know quite a lot about me and my background, but for some of you this blog post will be our first meeting. If you fall into the latter category; hello, it’s really nice to meet you.

I’m Laura. I’m 37 years old and for most of my adult life I’ve been stuck in a relentless cycle of binge eating and dieting.

I took a dislike to exercise at a young age and by my teenage years the ordeal of secondary school PE lessons had transformed that creeping dislike into a deep seated loathing. Not naturally athletic and definitely not popular; I was picked last for team sports, finished last in cross country runs and the only event I was ever chosen for on sports day was to be the ‘anchor’ in the tug-o-war.

By the time I was 16 I was much bigger than all my friends and very sedentary. I’d taken a part time job working in a mobile fish and chip van and had discovered that food had the potential to make me feel happier. Not only was I given free rein to pack up my own portion of evening meal after every shift, I now had my own money to buy the food which made me feel happy.

Soon none of my clothes fit. During my two years at sixth form college I didn’t go out with my friends once. They all seemed impossibly beautiful, so full of life and stunning in their latest fabulous dress or tiny shorts. I told them loud music and dancing wasn’t my thing, that we’d have a night in with a takeaway instead soon.

I sought solace in food. I’d buy whole blocks of marzipan and eat them in secret in my room. I’d buy a frozen strawberry cheesecake and barely wait for it to defrost before eating the lot.

I wish someone had told me I wasn’t “just being greedy”. I wish someone had asked me why I did it. I wish I had realised there was so much more to it than having a “sweet tooth”. I wish I’d known where to turn.

On my graduation day I probably weighed around 18 stone. I found a job straight after university and it was stressful from the offset with a huge volume of work and not enough hours in the day. I was a high achieving perfectionist and I was determined not to let the workload beat me.

In my lunch break, on the 5 minute drive back from the sandwich shop I would bolt down a 200g bar of chocolate. Then eat my lunch as normal. I’d do the same on the drive home, always putting the wrappers in bins at petrol stations or shops. For the few minutes that my mouth was full of chocolate I felt happy. I found the sensation of feeling absolutely full up comforting. If I was having a rubbish day I held on to the knowledge that I could eat the chocolate in my bag or in the car soon.

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On the left, aged 33 and approaching 20 stone. On the right, 2018, finally getting the sub-2 hour half marathon I’d been desperate for.

If I had a penny for each time I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. Focusing on everything I loathed about my appearance… I’d be a really really rich woman.

I was so ashamed and I hid my binging from my friends and family. I’d vow to lose weight, to not be so greedy and I’d start a new extreme diet with earnest. Atkins, Cambridge, Slimming World, Weight Watchers, Rosemary Connelly, 5:2, Paleo, Slimfast, Cabbage Soup… you name it, I’ve probably tried it and I’ve probably lost some weight doing it. I would start, always on a Monday, after psyching myself up for a few days and always after ‘making the most’ of the weekend by having one last binge.

Why couldn’t I see that I was setting myself up for failure from the very start? I only ever dieted because I was disgusted with myself. Because I was ashamed of my greed and because I thought my body looked revolting. I deserved to endure the latest diet – it was punishment for being so weak, greedy and fat.

Part of the reason I always regained the weight I’d lost – plus a bit more for good measure; was because not one of the diets I followed ever educated me about the basics of energy balance. If you’d asked me what a calorie was I wouldn’t have really known… “it’s something that makes you fat” would probably have been my answer.

This is something I feel incredibly strongly about – the diet industry thrives on NOT educating people. Its very survival depends on the fact that you WILL regain weight. They are relying on you not being able to maintain your reduced weight without further spending on their products or membership.

If this all sounds familiar to you then please hear this. If you have regained weight which you lost by following a diet which failed to educate you about energy balance; the failure isn’t in the weight regain, it came way before that. The failure was in the plan that you followed. YOU are not a failure and you are not a lost cause.

Education is really important to help break the diet cycle. But there’s something else which is arguably even more so. This is the thing that I think lots of you reading this might be searching for, without even realising.

Every time I lost some weight, I’d feel proud of myself for a little while. Especially if people started to notice I was slimmer. All of a sudden the miserable diet was worth it.

People see you when you’re thin. You’re invisible when you’re overweight.

And that’s it. Only now can I see that I was always doing it for other people. I wanted to change my appearance because I was worried about how I looked to other people. To stop binging and to only eat small portions of food so people wouldn’t think I was greedy.

I never did anything from a place of appreciating my body and wanting to look after it. As far as I was concerned my body was fat and it looked disgusting. I couldn’t see that it had always done everything I’d asked of it – most importantly growing three healthy babies and allowing me to feed each of them.

It was only when the physical pain started that I started to appreciate how desperately important it was that I make a real change. I was 33 years old and I couldn’t walk my 5 year old daughter to school without stopping to catch my breath. My knees and lower back hurt almost constantly. The pain and shortness of breath frightened me. This wasn’t the Mummy I wanted to be.

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On the left, aged 32 and on the right, aged 37 having just completed my first triathlon with my biggest supporters watching

My knee jerk reaction was Slimming World. I’d done it before, it was safe because I knew what I was doing with it. So I rejoined in September 2015, stuck to plan religiously and by Christmas I’d lost several stone. The group I went to was lovely and by this time I was a stay at home Mummy with three children under 5 – to be honest I was just glad of a few hours to myself one evening a week to pay to be weighed.

In April 2016 a friend asked me to go with her for a run and it’s no exaggeration to say that run changed my life. If you’d like to read more about this part of my story then please have a read of my earliest blog posts.

Once I’d discovered that actually, I didn’t hate running and that exercise wasn’t punishment. I started to be really grateful for this body of mine. Every week I’d ask it questions, to run 5k, then 6k, then 7k… it always responded with a yes. I started to get curious about nutrition. Little bits and pieces that I’d seen on social media prompted me to read more, to want to educate myself a bit more and to actually pay a bit more attention to looking after my health instead of pinching and poking at the bits of me which didn’t fit in my jeans.

How did I break the cycle? By realising that absolutely nothing sustainable can come from a place of self loathing. By finally appreciating that certain foods aren’t ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ and to stop using food as a reward and an absence of food as punishment.

Yes I learnt about energy balance. I learnt that you can’t break thermodynamics and the reason I chose to study for the leading qualification in evidence based nutrition was so I could have a better understanding of the science involved in nutrition.

But when it comes to weight loss, the most important things are what I’ve learnt through my own struggles and through my experience with clients. If you are someone who binge eats, if you are stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting and if you use food to cope with stress and anxiety. Losing weight should not be your aim right now.

To quote my mentor, Martin MacDonald – “you have to give yourself unconditional permission to eat”. Do this first. Forget trying to make your body smaller. Instead make a few small life changes, which you think you could sustain forever. Increase your protein, double your veggies, drink your water. Find a way to be active as often as possible – it’s amazing how finding a form of exercise which you enjoy can make you feel incredibly grateful for your body and want to look after it.

I sobbed when I watched the MNU lectures on eating disorders. It’s taken me a bit of time to process it all and think about how best I can use my experience to help other people. I try and use my social media platforms to educate and support – and I’m very grateful to everyone who shares my posts and helps me to reach more people. Thank you.

To everyone who is in that place I was. Please know that you’re not alone and that it is not hopeless. You’re not broken nor are you a lost cause. There are ways you can mend your relationship with food and build a better one. Please reach out to someone ♥️

 

 

 

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