When I was born, the doctor who delivered me told my mother, ‘Well, she won’t be a ballet dancer with those legs.”
I’ve never been entirely sure why my mother told me that story. Either way, I’ve had body image issues since I was old enough to understand language.
The how and why of my weight gain over the years is too long a story for this post but the reality is, I did put on weight, lost it, put more on etc, for years and years, never knowing how or why it happened. Always sure that if I could just do it right, then I could be slim again like I was… Actually, I don’t think I ever was slim, not in the traditional sense. At least, I certainly wasn’t in my head.
Then came this one day. I was 36 years old. I’d spent Christmas in Brussels, Belgium, with my best friend and while there, I’d met this gorgeous 22 year-old guy. I mean, he really was exceptionally handsome. His name was Ben. And – for reasons I really couldn’t fathom – he liked me. Really liked me. There were plenty of young, pretty, and very available girls around – but he spent hours talking to me, flirting with me, looking meaningfully into my eyes and delivering spine-tingling compliments about how lovely I was, how intelligent, how delightful, how attractive.
And before you start pulling out your calculators – I was backpacking, he was working in a backpackers hostel. He was from Albania, I was an Australian living in London. He wasn’t thinking I could fund his elevation up the social scale. He just actually liked me for who I was.
Entirely unsure of what I should think/do about this, I did indulge myself a little – how could I not? When we parted, he promised, with his hand literally over his heart, that he would be in London two weeks later, and we’d get together then. Being older and (I thought) much wiser, I said, “I know you mean that now, but I know it won’t happen.” But he was adamant and assured me many times that we would meet up again very soon. I left Belgium sure that it wouldn’t happen, but still some small spark of hope travelled with me.
Fast forward two weeks. I didn’t hear from him. I left it a few days, then a few more. I found excuses for him, counted up the reasons that might stop him calling me. But after ten days, I could stand the suspense no longer. I called him.
Only he wasn’t there. He’d gone back to Albania and wasn’t returning.
I remember that moment quite vividly. I was standing in a phone box, on a street in London, two hundred meters up the road from where I lived. It was cold and it was night time. And I was furious. Absolutely, mind-numbingly white-hot furious. Not with Ben, mind you. With myself. For having been so incredibly stupid as to believe his promise! For having fallen for it. For being 36 years old and still ‘not getting it’!
I hung up from the call and then used the hand-set of the phone to hit myself on the head. I needed the physical pain. I did the same on my thigh, needing more of it. Physical pain I could deal with. It was the thing going on inside me that I couldn’t deal with.
I went across the road to the hot chicken place and ordered a burger and chips. I took them home and spent the next half hour shoving them into my mouth. I force-fed myself food my stomach didn’t want. I spent the night raging against myself and my blind, idiotic foolishness.
The next three days were spent in an eating binge that wrote a whole new book on the subject for me. If it was edible, then it found its way into my mouth. It didn’t matter that I was never hungry, it was food – that’s all I needed to know. I ate and ate and ate and just didn’t stop. The whole time, I knew I was shoving the food into my mouth, I knew I was using violence against myself in the form of food – but I could do nothing to stop it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stop it. I needed the violence like I needed air to breathe. I needed that violence to be inflicted by myself, onto myself. I didn’t want to hurt anybody else. Just me. Because I deserved it. I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. I’d allowed myself to hope that something good might happen. That he really had liked me for myself. I’d fallen for it like an idiot and I needed to pay.
Four days of eating later I knew I had to find a way to stop. I knew that what I was doing to myself was somehow not a good thing – but I just didn’t know what else I could do.
So I did what I always did when I wanted to stop eating like a lunatic – decide I had to go on a diet – as though it was all about food!
Yes, that’s always what we tell ourselves, what everybody thinks – that being fat, putting on weight is actually about food.
So there was I was, standing in a bookshop in Charing Cross Road, surrounded by diet books. I picked up a book by Dr Cherie Martin called Naturally Slim. I didn’t read it – I just looked at it, and knew.
Using such violence on myself wasn’t normal. And it wasn’t healthy. There’s no way a normal, healthy, sane person would commit such a crime against themselves. If I’d seen somebody else doing that, I’d stop them. So why had I done it to myself?
I wish I could say that the realisation alone was enough to set me on track to blissful thinness – but we all know the real world just isn’t like that. It took years for me to kill that obsessive, dangerous behaviour – but I did. How I did it will be the subject of future posts. Just know that there is light at the end of that tunnel.
Have you had a life-change moment, where you discovered you had a problem? What did you do about it?
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