About two years ago, I decided to lose weight. Nothing unusual in this. I have decided to lose weight about once a year since I’ve been – what? Seven, maybe? I can’t even remember. But this time, rather than launching myself wholeheartedly into a punishing regime (5:2, Cabbage Soup, Slimfast, Atkins… that one I made up when I was 16 that was just Smirnoff Ice and apples) I thought – what do doctors recommend? Like, what is the “actual best way” to lose weight? And one answer to that is, join a weight loss support group.
This was a difficult idea, for me. The thing about my variety of punishing regimes is, they were largely secret. I wouldn’t really talk about them (except perhaps when drunk, to close friends) and I’d just vaguely pretend that I was losing weight due to “healthy eating” or “yoga” when in fact it was down to having nothing but 7 cashew nuts for dinner. I’d never told anyone how much I weighed, not really. The truth was, pushing size 18, I really really didn’t want to admit that I was fat. I was ashamed of it.
As if I’ve never done a worse thing, than eat more calories than I burned!
What was also difficult, was telling my friends. I had this idea that some of them might be a little… Disappointed in me, I suppose? That they might think I was silly, and vain, for this. I sort of did, after all. And I thought they might think less of me for doing something so mainstream, so… basic, as to openly admit to wanting to lose weight.
I was right.
I remember talking about it for the first time, at a pub. Someone asked if I’d be out on Monday. No, I said. Really? What are you doing? So, deep breath. I’m joining a weight loss support group.
Looks of horror.
“What? Why would you want to do that?”
“So, what, you go EVERY week? And they WEIGH you?”
“Hey, Lucy, if I come round to your house and tell you not to eat cake every Monday, will you give me a fiver too?”
Yeah, thanks guys. Ha ha ha. I’ve just told you that something in my life has become a problem for me, and I am taking steps to fix it. Would you have reacted the same way if I’d said I was joining AA? Because I know you don’t take this seriously, but I feel really out of control and unhappy and I want to try and fix it.
This attitude is not just them, at all. There is a branch of feminism that floats through my newsfeed, which is STONGLY and PROUNDLY anti dieting. It seeing “dieting” as anti-feminist, as a diet as a bad thing to do to your body, even to your soul. Riot, don’t diet!! Look up from your scales, and gaze at the sunset. This January, don’t try to lose weight! Try to GAIN EXPERIENCE. Read books, make friends, have adventures!
GUYS. Unless these adventures you speak of are exclusively expeditions into cake shops, THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE ACTIVITIES. What the hell about eating fewer mars bars makes you think I’ll forget how to read?
We see “dieting” as petty vanity, is the thing. And that might not be true. I thought I was pretty hot when I was bigger – I don’t think I look more attractive now. But what I did think was that it was time to stop letting food make me so bloody unhappy all the time. I saw food as divided into “good for you”, and therefore disgusting, or “delicious” and therefore something I shouldn’t be eating. Everything I put in my mouth, I was either eating resentful self-denial or guilt and a feeling of spinning out of control, right alongside it. I wanted that to stop. I wanted to stop thinking about food all the time, being uncomfortable around food choices, always starving or binging to a greater or lesser extent, but never properly nourishing myself.
But if I just wanted to look better in my Instagram bikini shots… So? I’m allowed to be vain, if I like. I’m allowed to wear makeup if I want to, and wear the clothes I think look cool. I’m not allowed to insist anyone else sports a bold lip and a leather biker jacket, and, of course, I am not allowed to tell anyone I think they should lose weight. But I expect the same respect back.
You only get one body, and it is yours to pilot through life the way you think is best. That could mean steering it through marathons, or dancing it around a club until dawn. Or laying it down on a sofa with pizza and prosecco because you LOVE pizza and prosecco. Or getting it a big mac because that’s what there is and you don’t want to be hungry later. Or lovingly chopping up carrots for yourself, modifying recipes in your head so that each portion contains your entire recommended allowance of vegetables. All of these things. None of these things. Your call.
This is the essence of bodily autonomy – YOU choose what YOU do with YOUR body. That’s it. Simple as that. So, yes. I’m trying to lose weight. And I don’t expect you to care, at all, or to commend me on it (I’d actually rather you didn’t). But I do expect you to respect that I know what’s best for my body. And I would ask that you maybe reconsider the anti diet memes. You might be stopping someone from getting help.
Next week – what actually happens at a weight loss group