I am trying to lose weight at the moment. And I’m trying to be healthy. And in the past those two things have never sat together easily for me.
I’m trying to lose weight because over the past couple of years I was increasingly exhausted, suffering horrendously painful periods that kept me off work for days and gradually gaining weight. I went back to my GP again and again, and then eventually (after insisting that actually there was something wrong I wasn’t just tired from work and no, actually very woman doesn’t feel like this bad every month) was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and endometriosis. I’m working with my new GP (needless to say I left the old one) and specialists to get both of these conditions under control, but that hasn’t made the weight magically disappear – apparently I have to sort that bit out “the old fashioned way”. The difficult bit comes when I’m asked to set my goal weight, I think about the lightest I’ve ever been and reluctantly add enough kilos so that weight will acceptable. And that when I think about diets, about healthy eating plans, about clean eating, I start getting stressed and panicky. And when I think about “the old fashioned way” I go back to the darkest point in my life.
I have had problems with eating disorders since I was thirteen ears old and that by far the worst time for me was the period between age seventeen and twenty five. There were a couple of years while I was university that were the very worst time in my life, when I clung to my disordered relationship with food and my completely dysfunctional relationship my own body in an attempt to cope with everything else that was happening to me.
Even though I know that my mindset was not healthy at all and that my size and weight at this time were not healthy or unsustainable by healthy means, there is a dark corner of my mind that has always believed that being so thin was the biggest achievement of my life. There is also a part of my mind that tells me that I never really had an eating disorder. Never mind the years I wasted by starving myself, forcing myself to be sick every time I caved in and ate something and obsessing over the fact that I wasn’t good enough (which invariably equated to not thin enough). Never mind the entries that were entered on my medical record – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and depression – during a time when things were so bad that I nearly dropped out of university. Never mind that at the time that I was so thin, I always thought that I was too fat and had so much self-loathing that every day was a struggle. This voice argues that I was never really thin enough to have an eating disorder. I was never so thin that I was hospitalised, never so thin that I was force fed, so therefore, that voice tells me, I was never really ill. In fact, it whispers sometimes, maybe what you need to do is stop pretending you were ill and find the self discipline to go back to that weight and those behaviours.
But something happened recently that has challenged this voice. A couple of weeks ago, I was sorting through some boxes and the old computer at my parents house because I wanted to make sure that I kept my old modelling portfolio and all the photos from when I was at university before they made good on their threat to throw out all the stuff I abandoned when I moved out.
I was looking through my portfolio and kind of lost down memory lane remembering the hilarious hairstylist on this shoot or the terrible freezing cold studio on that one. My portfolio is full of the very best photos from these shoots, taken after a whole team of professionals paid to make me look my very best before the camera, and a whole team of professionals armed with Photoshop to make the resulting photos look even better. My portfolio got the same old wistful “I was so slim” feeling. But it wasn’t my portfolio that got the biggest reaction from me.
It was the outtakes – the hundreds, even thousands of photos that didn’t make it into my portfolio – and the goofy pictures when we were testing the lighting, the selfies I took in front of the sets and the pictures from nights out afterwards. Some of the things I saw in those pictures really disturbed me, and the reaction they got was disbelief and sadness. The outtakes from my favourite photo shoot (that supposed pinnacle of achievement of thinness) are nothing like the picture my agent chose to be printed out and put in my book. In the majority of the pictures from that day I look gaunt, tired, unhealthy and too thin, far too thin. I’ve never deep down believed that I was ever too thin, so for me to admit this even to myself was like a seismic shift.
Even worse are the pictures a few days later when I’m hanging out with my friends, no makeup, no professional lighting, no Photoshop. I’m shocked at how unhealthy I look compared to the other people in the photos. For the first time in my life I’m not thinking “I wish I looked like that now”, instead I’m thinking “I look terrible, why didn’t anyone say anything to me”. The very worst thing about this cache of photos is that I clearly remember that on the day these pictures were taken, I thought that I needed to lose weight. Today I look at these pictures and think the girl in them was clearly ill and in need of help, not that she has something I wish I had now.
I know that I don’t want to go back to feeling like that or looking like that, but I also feel a bit like the rug has been pulled out from under me. My view has changed and that magical, in-my-wildest-dreams-I-might-get-to-that-again weight has suddenly become undesirable. That destination, that perfect weight that would make me happy, doesn’t exist.
I still want to lose weight, but its because I want to improve my health not damage it in a different way in pursuit of that “perfect” weight. That feels liberating, but it feels a bit scary too – before I knew what the destination would be and now I don’t know where I’m headed because I’m going to have to learn what healthy is along the way – and I feel angry, that I’ve been berating myself for my entire adult life for not maintaining something that was so bad for me.