Why I stopped weighing myself

weight body image

 weight body imageAre you always weighing yourself? Do you weigh yourself regularly?

Does your weight dictate how you feel?

It’s just over a year since I stopped weighing myself – and here I explain why.

If you’ve read my post Why do you weigh yourself? or my book Tough Love you’ll understand why I don’t believe weight should be an emphasis in anyone’s lives – however ‘fat’ they feel. Weight means nothing. It only represents one part of ourselves – it’s impossible to get a measure of someone’s overall health simply using their weight alone. For this reason focusing on it and calculating your worth and beauty based on it can be very dangerous and misleading.

Of course, this principle is easy to preach – but it wasn’t always so easy to live by for me. Until January 2015, I was weighing myself religiously every Friday morning.

 I’d weighed myself every single week since the age of 11 or 12 – so roughly 12 years. During the time I had Anorexia I would weigh myself more frequently. I laid a lot of store by how much I weighed, because that’s what I’d been told by the people around me and the media we were all watching and reading – the diet companies, the magazines, the television programmes. It was unthinkable that I could consider not weighing myself.

Most of the time I felt good weighing myself. It was actually a confidence boost as well as a way to obsessively monitor my weight. I normally maintained at a static weight or lost, so I always felt pretty good about myself. On a Friday or Saturday I’d stuff myself with rubbish as some kind of ‘reward’ for having kept my weight the same.  

But the good feeling was always short lived – because then I’d worry frequently about whether what I was doing (or wasn’t doing) could result in weight gain. The feelings grew towards the end of the week, when Friday rolled around again. Even though I knew that I’d done nothing different, I’d still dread stepping on those scales. This meant I was also stuck in an unhealthy cycle of eating poor quality food and eating too little, choosing the same things (at the same time) time and again because I worried that choosing something different could end up in me piling on the pounds. Sometimes even though I’d religiously stuck to my strict regime, I’d find that I’d gained a pound. This caused me to feel fat for the rest of the week (or few weeks depending on how long it took) until I’d lost that one pound. I’d starve myself and beat myself up. I never recognised fully that the ‘excess’ weight could have been water retention or something perfectly innocent. It certainly wasn’t enough to worry about – and probably didn’t represent a pound of fat. And this was all long after my eating disorder – behaviour which is often considered normal by lots of people – especially women.

 At the end of 2014 I’d been through a stressful time. I lost my job after my employers bullied me, and the whole experience had left me struggling with anxiety and crippled by its physical symptoms. Amongst the shaking, the headaches, the insomnia and the panic attacks were two key issues – nausea and loss of appetite. My weight plummeted and within a few weeks I’d lost just over half a stone. For someone who was on the lower side of a healthy weight this obviously wasn’t good. Physically I was weak and exhausted – mentally I was emotionally drained. Although I knew the weight loss was a bad thing, a small part of me felt good about it. I took concern as compliments. Although I’ve never relapsed, these parts of my ED have stayed with me and used to resurface when I was vulnerable. They’d never lead to anything, but they certainly didn’t make me feel good. After a while I began to eat a little more again. But when I did, something strange happened.

My weight started to slowly creep back up again. I wasn’t too bothered by this as I knew I needed to gain more to be healthier. But as it passed the lower end of what I’d decided was acceptable, I began to worry. I was even more distressed when it started to rise past the weight I’d been before everything had happened a few months before. I couldn’t understand why – I’d gone back to my strict way of eating. How could this be happening? I started to question everything. I felt sick worrying about it. I couldn’t understand why this was going wrong when everything I was doing appeared to be right. I couldn’t eat any less than I was now – I’d be ill. I just couldn’t understand how to slow the weight gain and initiate weight loss again too.

I spent a few weeks in this state of anxiety until I realised something. This was all ridiculous. I’d been through a lot and here I was beating myself up over something completely stupid. I could never know why the weight was going on. It couldn’t be fat – I looked the same. I knew that weight was only a rough guide and could be mysterious, influenced by many factors. I’d put on over half a stone after originally joining the gym, and I’d come to terms with that eventually. I didn’t look bloated or puffy – so it couldn’t be water, either. Whatever it was, I was just torturing myself if I thought I could pinpoint the cause. So even though I was frightened that the weight gain would never stop and I’d end up obese somehow, I made the decision to stop weighing myself, and to stop the emotional distress that came with it as a result.

I thought that the anxiety would increase. But actually things started to improve for me. I started to enjoy food more. I felt so liberated not worrying so much about what I was eating. I loved not getting up on Friday morning with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. Slowly my IBS improved a little as I recovered further from my difficult few months.

Although I’m not fully liberated from this idea of ‘weight’ meaning something, you can see that it’s made a considerable difference to my mental wellbeing and directly influences my opinion of my own beauty in a positive way. I no longer panic every week in anticipation for the regular weigh-in, change my routine before I step on the scales or starve myself for days to get my weight back to what I felt was ‘acceptable’ after a higher reading than normal.

 I hope you can also see that I’m sharing this post because it wasn’t easy for me to stop. And even now, I still wobble sometimes because I feel as though by not knowing my exact weight, I’m not in control. When these times come, I remind myself:

       Weight means nothing – it doesn’t indicate your body composition, so a ‘high’ weight doesn’t mean you’re fat

       If I step on the scales now and I don’t like what I see, I will undo all the hard work and positive steps I have taken since I stopped weighing myself. Doing this to myself achieves nothing!

I’m going to set you a challenge: go cold turkey with the scales. Every time you have a wobble, remember those three things. Keep going until the wobbles become less frequent. Soon you’ll forget that you used to dread every Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. You’ll forget the misery of the diet groups where you were publicly forced to step on the scales and were praised it pitied depending on the result. Most importantly, you’ll be healthier mentally and physically.

 

For more on body image click here.

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You are not a dress size

sizing

sizing

 

One thing I discuss in Tough Love is sizing. It’s always been such an issue for me and the people around me, because nobody in my family (or my group of friends) are actually ‘one size’ across the board.

So often I see magazine articles promoting ‘drop a dress size’ or ‘celeb X is now a size 10’ – but what does any of that mean? It means nothing, because dress sizes are different everywhere you go.

You’re not defined by your dress size – fact

I always thought growing up that sizes were grouped into ‘fat’ and ‘thin’. Anything below a size 10 was thin, 12-16 was middling, and over 16 was huge. This meant that as an overweight teenager I spent many hours in changing rooms feeling shit because I couldn’t get a size 14 or 16 pair of jeans near my thighs. To me, this meant I was ‘fat’.

But your measurements can’t dictate whether you are ‘fat’ or ‘thin’. I’ve since learnt that most women who appear to be a regular, healthy size struggle to fit into the size which would naturally correspond with that in a retail outlet. I’ve also learnt that sizes change from shop to shop and between different types of clothing – so really how can a size define you when you’re a 10 in Topshop and a 14 in Miss Selfridge?

What IS your dress size anyway?

Very few of us are created as per manufacturer’s instructions. The contradictory ‘one size fits all’ remit shops use (cleverly in some cases to exclude certain women) just doesn’t cut it for the majority of people who are all shapes and sizes. I use my own body as an example because my measurements are pretty extreme. I have a 24 inch waist and a 30 inch chest, but my hips are 37 inches. That means that I can be anywhere between a 6 and a 10 on top, and anywhere between a 12 and a 16 on the bottom. Loads of women have this issue – and whether you’re ‘top heavy’ or ‘bottom heavy’ it’s unlikely that high-waisted skirts and trousers or jumpsuits and dresses fit perfectly every time.

With this in mind, how can you honestly say you’re a 12, or a 14, or an 8? You could be all three.

Remember this when you’re feeling bad about your dress size

Unfortunately dress sizes have connotations attached to them. The ‘size zero’ debate has been raging for ages – and really there’s little argument against there. But what about all the other sizes? Why is an 8 acceptable, but a 12 isn’t? When a size 8 in one shop could also be a 12?

Next time you’re sitting in a changing room feeling fat, or hear your friends boasting about their dress size, remember that sizing is actually rubbish. It doesn’t define you – it means nothing. It says nothing about how you really look. Sizing made me hate my size 16 bum and thighs, but now I love them because my judgement isn’t clouded by pre-conceived associations about being ‘fat’. Lots of women hate their boobs because they make them a 14 on top – but those not blessed with a voluptuous figure are probably envious.

When you’re buying or trying on clothes, assess them on how they look on you, dress for the figure you have not someone else’s, and ignore the size labels, the mannequins and the marketing images filled with models who don’t match your body type. When you focus on your dress size alone you block out all the positives – and that’s a recipe for poor body image and low self-esteem.

Struggling with size? Want more on body image? Check out related blogs and Tough Love here.

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YASP

National UK mental health charity Mind have always been one of my favourites. That’s because I see them actively doing things to help people in this country with a variety of mental health issues – unlike other charities who have funding ploughed into them only to squander it or not to offer valuable and important help to the vulnerable people they should be supporting (I’ll name no names here!)

Recently I got involved with Manchester Mind’s YASP initiative – which specifically works to improve the network of help available for young people in the North West of England. Whilst I do go into schools, colleges and charities independently to talk about my experience and share advice on nutrition, body image and eating disorders, I am currently also go in with the YASP team to talk about mental health and wellbeing in general.

As part of what I do in schools I also speak with teachers, peer mentors and pastoral staff to help them to be aware of the issues which can contribute to somebody developing anorexia, signs to look out for and things they can do to help.

If you find yourself with nowhere to turn to, I really do recommend looking up Mind as well as other charities who specifically deal with eating disorders. If you’re based here in the North West, YASP in particular offer counselling, activities, work experience and mentoring – all of which can be really helpful if you feel as though you are helpless or struggling without anything to do or work towards. If you’re in another part of the UK or Ireland, (or overseas) you can find a list of helpful charities below.

Whatever you need support with, you can find more details about helpful charities here.

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Why I am against diets and dieting

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a bold step to come out and denounce the diet industry like I do – partly because they are huge and very popular, with lots of money and a hell of a lot of influence. But I genuinely believe that they are damaging us mentally and physically – almost as much as junk food, which has been shown recently to be contributing to early deaths in human beings more than smoking.  

In all of my books, I talk about my hatred of diets. So for the benefit of anybody who hasn’t read them yet, I wanted to write a short post to explain why it is never a good idea to tell me you are on a diet!

Why do I disagree with diets?

When I was at secondary school, I was carrying a lot of ‘puppy fat’ (and some extra fat, too). I was small and round and podgy with greasy mousy brown hair, a blazer that was too big for me and a skirt hoisted up to my chest. It’s hardly surprising that I was bullied relentlessly – because even though it wasn’t deserved, I was undoubtedly an easy target.  So I started to think of ways to be liked. I tried everything. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (forgivably) that I was mainly disliked because I was fat – after all, this was one of the bullies’ favourite jibes. So I started to consume dieting advice like a sponge – absorbing information rapidly and soaking up every last little nugget of crappy information until I thought I had it right. Of course, I didn’t.

I went on a popular diet which involves counting points. I calculated my ‘daily allowance’ and vowed to undercut it consistently so that I would lose weight more quickly. I combined this with all the ‘useful’ information I’d gathered from celeb magazines, and my OCD 12 year old self soon became obsessed with counting points and calories – and more to the point, reducing them. It became addictive – feeling hungry, seeing the numbers reduced. I’d never liked maths, and I’d never been good at it – but suddenly adding and subtracting wasn’t a problem for me if it involved points and food. It wasn’t long before I developed anorexia – which nearly killed me. So you see, I have a very good reason for loathing diets – and a unique perspective when I talk to others about diets and their concerning motives.

A ruined relationship with food

As human beings, we’re not programmed to calculate our food intake to the nth degree. In actual fact, our bodies are designed to live in the wild, to hunt, gather and eat as and when we were able to. They are complex and intricate machines hosting a great number of processes every millisecond. And when you go on a diet, you fuck that up.

Diet companies encourage us to have a poor relationship with food by nature. It is the enemy to be controlled, monitored and reduced – with an end goal of being ‘slim’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘happy’. Of course we all know that this rarely follows – but we are so compelled by clever marketing (brainwashed, almost) to believe that by dieting, we are doing the right thing.

Healthy eating should be for life

Diets are not sustainable. Your body is not designed to live on sugary skimmed milk shake food replacements. Your body is not designed to be starved for hours on end. Your body is not designed to live on paltry offerings of dry toast and crackers to then be doused in alcohol at the weekend. Dieting for a short period of time damages your body in the long-term – especially if you go to the extreme. Adopting a healthy lifestyle for life however is different. And by healthy, I don’t mean eating diet food and living off low-calorie meals! I mean eating proper, wholesome food regularly when your body requires it. Plenty of fruit and veg, plenty of water, carbs, fat, the works.

It’s often too late that we realise we have forsaken what’s on the inside for how we look on the outside. I will always live with the consequences of anorexia – and whilst I don’t lay the blame solely at the door of diet companies and magazines, they played a huge part. I don’t want to see anybody else develop an eating disorder as a consequence of this misinformation – because I know I am lucky to have survived.

So please if you are unhappy with your weight, on a constant diet, have children or family members who care about you and depend on you – please take this post seriously and don’t diet. If you need any more convincing or would like to learn more about my story and how I eat now, you can read more about diets in my books, Tough Cookie, Tough Love, Nutrition in a Nutshell and Recipes for Recovery. 

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