In recent years, there’s been an influx of weight-loss and healthy eating programs in order to combat the fact that the United Kingdom has been statistically proven as the fattest nation in Europe. What’s more is that it’s been predicted by scientists that if we don’t sort ourselves out now, half the nation will be overweight and the number of elderly people with cancer with treble by 2040. Frightening stuff.
As a person who has a bit of a fear of dying – and dying painfully – I try to take care of myself. I love the gym and when I walk home having done a tasty piece of hard graft, I get a nice little buzz. Nevertheless, I’m not perfect. I have my relapses. Takeaways on payday have become common recently and I like me the odd cake or sweet drink once in a while. I don’t eat nearly as much fruit as I should and even though my weekly exercise routine consists of three 90 minute workouts at the gym and an hour getting’ down at zumba, over the past few months, this has began to decline. When I’m ill, the decline is steeper, but I’m fortunate because while not as disciplined with myself as I know I can be, I’m aware of my shortfalls and find ways to compensate for them.
Back in 2003, however, when I was my heaviest – a girl of fifteen; hardly a size 14 and yet not quite a 16 – I hadn’t a clue. My mum had just started fixing her own eating habits and yet I was piling on the pounds; I even weighed more than her at one point.
During my primary school days, I was the skinny kid who could pack it away. I remember lunchtime. Juniors were split into 'First and Second Dinners' on a rotary basis. When you were in for Second Dinners, there was a chance you could get seconds or even thirds. And then there was Christmas dinner - big stuff in my family - because not only did we have turkey, but we had beef, pork, chicken, fish, stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, mountains of gravy…etc. And I would put all of it and extras away with absolutely no problem whatsoever. I was a kid who enjoyed feeling stuffed beyond logic - bursting even; the kind of ‘stuffed’ where you have to lay down afterward because the concept of sitting up was too uncomfortable and ‘walking it off’ was about as far a thought away as my gut was.
So what I’m thinking is that I had taken my childhood eating habits into an adolescent body thinking it would be okay. But of course, it wasn’t. Because there was one thing that had changed between primary school and secondary school and that was the amount of exercise I was getting.
In primary school, I’d run around the playground, mess about on the climbing frame, the monkey bars…etc. In secondary school there was no apparatus. In my first year, however, I remember running around the school grounds playing a game of “it” and being yelled at by an older girl for doing exactly what I should have been doing – running around and exercising. But as I got older, 'exercising' was substituted for queuing up for the tuck shop, sitting on the wall and having a chat or messing about on the computers in the library after school.
By Year 9, I began to mature and the weight was piling on. My face had a mass of spots on it and I began to hate the way I looked. By Year 10, I would whinge to my mum who would tell me what I needed to do to shift the weight – and yet it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I didn’t understand why I had to change my eating habits; they’d always worked for me.
So I tried dieting. The first diet I tried was the Slim Fast diet. This lasted about a week. Substituting two meals for a can of liquid just didn’t cut it for me. I felt hungrier than usual and miserable. The next diet I tried was the Atkin’s Diet. My mum and even my aunt (who really had nothing to shift really; she’s always been thin) tried this diet and I have got to say that it worked. I was going strong for two weeks, cutting the carbs, scarfing the meat and dropping pounds, until my aunt became physically sick. Mum had read somewhere that apparently the Atkin’s diet can affect your kidneys so, not wanting to suffer as my aunt had, I stopped that diet and the weight went back on as expected.
Ultimately, the turnaround for me was a program called Paul McKenna Will Make You Thin. For me, it was one of the first programs I’d watched about legitimate weight-loss and it basically taught me to stop snacking on rubbish – I was addicted to chocolate for many years - to reduce portion size – seconds and thirds gone – and to drink water because not only does it contain no calories whatsoever, but it also, has a way of telling you whether you’re genuinely hungry or whether that pang in your stomach just means you were thirsty all along.
So I started off small and cut out chocolate for three weeks setting my reward date as Easter Sunday. Easter came and in tradition, mum had bought me an Egg. Even though I ate it, nonetheless, I realised that I really didn’t have to. I no longer craved chocolate in the same way as I once had while at secondary school. And even now at twenty-four, I don’t buy chocolate bars anymore and may only have chocolate in the form of a slice of cake at a restaurant or in the form of a biscuit.
In my freshman year of university, after having paid £150 for a year long membership to the gym - and having not gone for half a year - I slapped myself something fierce and proceeded to put Paul McKenna into action - properly. University is freedom when you're a student. I had a loan and a grant and bulk shopped every month. I would spend between £60 - £80 on groceries and £20 alone went towards sugar-infested drinks – Coke Cola, Ribena (the one you dilute with water), Lemonade, Cranberry juice** etc. I substituted the whole lot for four large bottles of water which collectively cost me £3. The snacks and biscuits and takeaways all went and I controlled my eating to three meals a day only. I went to the gym three times a week*** and five months later, I’d dropped a dress size. I hadn’t been a size 12 in forever.
So when I tuned into Secret Eaters last night, I couldn’t help but think about my old eating habits. The show looks into the lives of families who haven’t a clue why they may be overweight or aren’t losing weight. Sometimes a family isn't aware of what they’re doing while others just mightn’t be able to admit it to themselves that they do overeat. These people are given names for example, the Mealtime Magpie, described as the type of person who doesn’t like to see food go to waste and will therefore finish everything up; or the One Meal Wonder, who is the type of eater that tends to eat one meal a day, but due to hunger may overeat in that one sitting and over-compensate for the food not eaten during the day.
I was the Comfort Eater. I ate food that was hanging around out of boredom mostly or stress and especially tucked into snacks on a Friday after school, spending most of the night at the computer. I recall I had a set up; some manner of fizzy drink or something high in sugar - usually a bottle - and two or three packets of chocolates - Minstrels were my favourite. Note: I would eat and drink this on top of my dinner.
Nowadays, I’m a bit more savvy and a bit more opinionated when it comes to weight loss and weight gain. I know how big of an influence the media can be, whether positive or detrimental. But even now as a size 14 again, I want to be slimmer. At the same time, however, I don’t desire to be stick thin – I want to settle back at that size 12 simply because a) I’ve been a size 12 before and b) I don’t want to lose my curves – definitely culturally specific. I have a strong dislike of fad diets and diet pills, and actually had every intention of ranting about them here, but found this instead, which sums up my feelings perfectly.
My eating habits and such are far from ideal, nonetheless. I have yet to master the balanced lifestyle that I would like and I prefer to cut out temptation by NOT having certain things in the fridge or carrying less money. Eight years ago, I would have turned my nose up at this notion, but all one really needs is to eat well, beast less and exercise regularly.
* Channel4 ©
**Sometimes I’d mix them. Colabena anyone?
***I once did a seven-day streak, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that.