Those extra 5-10 pounds, that place where your body naturally wants to be – that’s your life. That’s your late night pizza with your man, that Sunday morning bottomless brunch, your favourite cupcake in the whole entire world, because you wanted to treat yourself. Those 5-10 pounds are your favourite memories, your unforgettable trips, your celebrations of life.
Those extra 5-10 pounds are your spontaneity, your freedom, your love.
I spend most of my teenage and adult life fighting my weight. Always wishing to be that little bit lighter, have that flatter tummy, feel that little more comfortable in a bikini – never turning those dreams into reality. It’s hard to pinpoint when and how it started, sometimes I wonder if it was simply a matter of Zeitgeist – it was chic to diet and therefore it was done. Nevertheless I do have a very clear recollection of the first time I was made aware of my body’s perceived shortcomings and the subsequent emotions of inadequacy and uncomfortableness it stirred.
It was my coach’s wife – I was a competitive swimmer as a young teenager – patting my belly at a competition while saying to me ‘You know, you could be a lot faster, if you’d loose that extra fat’. It was meant to awaken my ambition. Instead it cut deep into my self-awareness about my own body and weight.
I was furious at first, but I couldn’t shake it off and was soon consumed by my various attempts at dieting. Which in the 90s involved eating a lot of cabbage soup or other wonder cures. Then I spend the next two decades dieting with Brigitte (a German women magazine), fasted sweets, alcohol or bread, tried juicing, attempted six weeks of paleo and constantly berated myself for my urges to have second helpings. But none of these attempts ever came to anything and so did none of the other hundred vague and general promises I had made to myself with regards to healthier eating. Last year, I stumbled across the advert of a nutritionist promising to teach you how to optimise your vitamin and mineral intake while keeping the calories low. It turned out to be my final attempt. This year I decided instead of giving up chocolate or wine, I’d give up dieting.
While this might sound like a resignation it is in essence the opposite: the real work can only now begin. The hard inner negotiations where my mental health meets my positive body feeling. It is not a weary permission slip to turn my house into a cake shop, but a conscious decision not to turn every meal into an attempt to better myself. While working my way through the information provided by the nutritionist and the healthy eating challenges set by him, time and time again I recognised that the things that were holding me back from getting under my calorie target were the glass of wine for pizza Friday or the doughnut that was sneaked into the bag at our monthly bakery visit. On the other hand, I never exceeded my calorie limit that would maintain my weight. Which made me face a simple equation: do I want to berate myself of all treats or am I willing to work on my relationship with my body instead.
Because ultimately the only reason I’ve ever worried about my weight was of how it looks in my clothes.
I’ve never been overweight. I can run 5K without stopping, walk up the stairs without sweating and touch my toes with straight legs. Yet, as soon as I go shopping for a new pair of jeans or a dress, I feel the need to diet. Because, while I can do all these things, I’ve also got a few chunky rolls around my belly – as my coach’s wife pointed out – that don’t really look that great in a crop top. In fact they didn’t look great in most fast fashion items of my teenage years. Through which I’ve struggled to find anything that complimented instead of distorted my natural figure. I’ve stopped buying fashionable clothes years ago and now I’ve stopped dieting for them too.
I’ve done this not just for my own sanity, but for my daughter’s too. For many years to come it’s likely that she’ll strive to be like me. I don’t want her to see me dieting all the time when my figure and capability suggest all is as it should be. I can’t count the years I’ve seen my mother munching exclusively on carrots, despite having a perfectly normal figure, alas gifted with rolls around the waist.
If my daughter will be anything like me in character or body shape, I know I’ll better start now building her confidence in the face of all the people that might encourage her to lose that belly or consider her too fat (!) for all the sports she might do.
I joined the swimming club at the age of 5, began to train karate at the age of fifteen, after my A-Levels I went on to study sports sciences and all along there where people – coaches, relatives, sometimes even friends – that questioned my body shape in the light of all the exercise I did.
Whether all these comments and questions shaped my beliefs or simply hit a vulnerable nerve of insecurities and in consequence cemented them, I will never know. But they have stuck with me long past the time I discovered their falseness.
And false they are: There was proof of that all around through my university years. Hundreds of students that studied and attended over 30 sports classes alongside me. In truth, many of the students alongside me were slim. All of them were fit. But the shape that fit came with was different to everyone. Slim didn’t get you top of the class, more body fat didn’t mean you were always the last one to be picked. The way I recognised and spoke about body comfort and healthy figures changed drastically over those years, apart from when it came to myself. I couldn’t let go of that thought, if only I could lose those belly rolls I’d be perfect.
Wether it’s the fact that I sailed past my mid-thirty mark or the imminent threat of having to ban my beloved glass of red, but ‘perfect’ lost its appeal last year and I’m finally ready to shift my thoughts and embark on an entirely different journey. I’m aiming for a place where chocolate and body comfort share a wine together, at the bar in bikinis, smiling at their reflection in the mirror above; not because they don’t care what others think, but because they are truly happy with what they see. I want to learn how to unconditionally accept my body so that I can teach my daughter to do the same.
No more diet, therefore, doesn’t mean I’m giving up on healthy eating. Quite the opposite, but I am attempting to deepen the relationship with my body as opposed to optimising it.
How I’ll get to this ominous place of bikini-body happiness that still packs some pounds? I am not quite sure. But in order to deepen my understanding of anything, I’ve realised I need to come at it from more than one angle. It’s about engaging all senses: Listen to what and how much my body needs. Take it on taste journeys. Seek the rainbow. Stop and smell the ingredients. Prepare and cook with intention and patients. Move. Feel the fabrics of the clothes I wear or intend to buy. Look how they move around me. Learn, adjust, embrace.
Oh & H – A Homemakers Column. A monthly share of thoughts, pondered over between keeping a tiny terraced house and tending to an overgrowing allotment.