It’s now the 3rd of December and I have not weighed myself at all this year. This may seem like a strange thing to state for many people but since the age of 14 I have weighed myself every week, sometimes even more frequently. Even when I was travelling in my late teens I would find pharmacies, shops, anywhere I could to weigh myself and keep track of my numbers. And that’s what it was. It was all about the numbers. If the numbers were low I walked with a skip in my step, if the numbers were high the anxiety swelled to a point where I couldn’t even watch other people eat. Those numbers on the scale slowly became my value. The thing that decided if I was good or bad. It wasn’t my weight but my worth.
Over the last few years I have become more aware of how invasive diet culture is and it only seems to be growing with the increasing presence of diet ads on social media. It’s everywhere. Even celebrities are trying to sell us their flat tummy teas, diet pills and exercise plans. As a mum of three kids I have been able to observe the human body in way that you don’t get to normally. My kids are all made up of bits of me and bits of Nick, three different amalgamations of all the people who span our genealogy. As such, each of them is built quite differently. Rufus, at the moment, is like a bean pole but he also looks a lot like Nick so puberty may make a rugby player build emerge. Martha is similar to Rufus but her legs somehow just seem tiny. Eloise is very different, she is 7 but already has curves. These kids are beautiful, their bodies are perfect but more importantly they are just gorgeous humans who amaze me everyday. It is one of my biggest fears that one day these perfect little people start judging themselves by numbers on a scale, or on the label of their clothes. It was with this thought that I decided to stop weighing myself.
I have never set myself New Year’s resolutions before because, let’s face it, they never last. However with the thought that I may be contributing to the future anxieties of my children, simply by stepping on a scale, I decided to set a resolution of no more weighing. The health and well-being of my children has been and I think will always be a huge motivator for positive changes in me. I haven’t weighed myself this year. I have no idea what my weight is. I can hazard a guess based on how my clothes are fitting but I genuinely don’t know for sure. The first six months of this year were really tough. It was like breaking an addiction. I would look at the scales and be so tempted, I would have bloating before my period and be desperate to see how that had changed my numbers, I would have a bad week and want to confirm how shit I was by getting on the scales. Slowly, very slowly, the urge began to wain, I began to think about it less. I wasn’t keeping count of calories in my head all day – the constant calculator that was my 22 year companion had ceased to work. I’d be lying if I still didn’t want to find out my number some days, like all addictions you’re never fully cured but the freedom that has come from not knowing is like a breath of fresh air after years in a dungeon.
I have never been anorexic, nor have I binged and purged. My disordered eating doesn’t easily fit in a box, nor does anyone’s really. I began dieting as a teenager but it never really was about the way I look. Yes, I am vain enough to care how clothes look on me and to suck in my tummy when meeting someone for the first time but my outward appearance was not my main motivator. Around the time I started dieting I was very lonely. I had chosen to step away from a friendship group that was no longer making me happy, but in the process I isolated myself and remained alone for a while. I felt that I was unlikeable and unloveable, unworthy of the attention from others so I began to punish myself. There was also an element of control about it too. Everything seemed so out of control emotionally (I was a teenager after all) and the numbers gave me control of something. You eat a certain number of calories and you put on a pound, you eat less than a certain number and you lose a pound. It was reliable and I could trust it.
As a result of weight loss I got attention. People paid me compliments, people noticed me, people were interested. My lowest point was during my relationship with my abusive ex-boyfriend. At the time I weighed only 8 stone (height of 5 foot 7 inches) and he would often make remarks like, ‘you look the biggest you’ve ever looked today,’ and, ‘I really like skinny girls with big boobs, but you’re cute too.’ He made me feel like he was doing me a favour by being with me and that I was lucky because no one else would want to be. He made me feel boring and silly but if I lost another pound I’d at least be cute. He was an incredibly manipulative person and he found my weakest point, poked it and poked it until I broke. It would take me three years to even begin to rebuild myself.
The only other times where I have felt free from the drudgery of my numbers was when I was pregnant. With each pregnancy I had someone else to be better for. My babies needed to grow and thrive so my numbers no longer mattered. Each pregnancy had me putting away the scales and allowing myself to have value because of the life growing inside me. Like I said, my kids are my biggest motivator. It feels different this time. It feels like although my kids were the catalyst, they’re not the sustaining incentive, I am. Maybe for the first time in a long time, my value is me.
I still have a long way to go to recover from the mental damage I have done to myself over the years in this regard, but this year is a huge achievement for me and I wanted to share it, to write it and to feel proud. Many of you may be struggling with things like this and how ever you choose to move forward, please do what’s right for you, do it in a healthy way and remember that even if you can’t see your worth, it’s there. It’s there in the eyes of those who love you, the eyes of those you help and in the things you do to make this world better, no matter how small those acts might seem.