I'm two stone heavier and two stone happier
14th May is kind of a little anniversary for me.
It was the day that, two years ago, we went out for a fancy family lunch to celebrate my brother's 21st birthday and the first time in a long time that I told myself that I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted. I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted even though it wasn't my designated 'cheat day'. I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted and I wasn't going to run ten miles to make up for it. I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted at the big, fancy, three course meal and in the evening after it and the next day and every day. In short, it was the day I promised myself that I wasn't going to diet any more.
And if then you'd told scared, little, fragile, disordered me, even though I had started to follow body positivity accounts and was reading Intuitive Eating like it was creed, that two years on from that day I'd be eating what I wanted all the time and not spending every evening in the gym and writing all about how much better I feel, I wouldn't have believed you.
And I definitely wouldn't have believed you if you told me I'd be happier being two stone heavier.
Back then, I considered putting on weight to be the worst thing that could have happened to me. I was a slave to the scale. I wanted every extra pound, every inch I could pinch, every spot of cellulite gone. Putting on weight terrified me: even when I was medically advised to gain weight, I was hesitant to believe that I needed to, despite the fact that I was already in a small body and had whittled my weight down by 15%, was classed as 'under fat' and hadn't had a period in nearly two years.
But honestly, as the workouts lessened and the carbs increased and the suffocating hold I had on my diet loosened, the pounds piled on and I became happier. I am so much happier now that I fit food around my life, rather than fitting my life around food. These past two years, particularly the last year or so, I have learnt so much about myself, about my body and about how much I was restricting myself, and so I've compiled a little list things of things that stick out: things that make me happy, things that I wouldn't trade for dropping a dress size, and things that I'm going to try to remember when I have tough moments, like this morning, when I try on an old skirt and the zip doesn't do up.
1) Sundays don't have to be for long runs.
You can like, y'know, do things that you might actually enjoy like go to a gallery or go out for brunch or stay in your pyjamas all day reading the papers and watching re-runs of Come Dine With Me. It isn't a time to absolve for any sins you've committed that week by forcing yourself to run the best part of a half marathon.
2) Sundays don't have to be for 'cheating'.
I used to save myself until the day of rest to eat anything I actually wanted to. Cake, chocolate, cheese, bread and butter, you name it, if it wasn't a steamed green vegetable or a piece of baked fish, I was eating it. Sunday was the day when I'd have to get my fill, eat until I could eat no more, knowing I would restrict for the next six days. But now I know that eating what I want, when I want, in whatever quantity I want, means Sunday is never a day where I have to eating as many Maltesers as possible to 'make it worth it'.
3) Exercise can actually be really, really nice, actually. It's nice when you don't force yourself to do it. It's nice to do it with a friend, for fun. It's nice to do it alone, for the headspace. It's nice to do it just because, with no promise of any aesthetic results. It's nice to do it at your own pace, stopping to sit or dip your toes in the sea along the way. It doesn't always have to be painful.
4) Two words: salad dressing. Veg tastes GOOD when you give it a lil boost. It tastes good when you roast it in olive oil, or chuck some hummus on it or yes, dress your effin' salad. You don't have to sit with a sad desk lunch of limp lettuce if you don't want to. Food is to be enjoyed, not to be endured.
5) Your friends don't care what you look like. I'm speaking from a place of unjust privilege here, a) because I'm still in a thin body and experience all its associated, biased, societal advantages, and b) because all my friends turned out to be absolute diamonds. No one commented on the weight gain, no one evicted me fro the group Whatsapp once I gained two stone, no one chats dieting or fatphobia or weight loss around me. They ask questions, they're at the end of the phone when I have a bad body day, they care about me, not my body.
6) You'll crave carrots just as much as you crave chocolate. Once all food becomes neutral, and nothing is 'good' or 'bad', 'saintly' or 'bad', 'on-plan' or 'off-limits', you can start listening to your body and respond better to its needs. I know now when I want vegetables or when I want something very, very, extremely not vegetables. And I do genuinely crave them, now that I don't force myself to eat them and sweet stuff isn't the forbidden fruit.
7) Everyday will still be a bit of a battle.
The ED stuff doesn't just disappear. Every day, you still have to choose you. You have to choose you and your brain and your health and your happiness over societal standards or the scale or the size six skirt you want to fit into. You have to challenge those ED thoughts. You can't go for the run when you feel disordered. You have to have two slices of toast when your brain's telling you you're only allowed one. You have to stay aware and stay active.
8) You sleep better when you eat properly.
Properly balanced meals help you in everything. And when I say balance, I mean balanced, not some faux Instagram interpretation of it that shows someone eating a donut after a five hour work out. I mean meals that are a balance of protein, fat and carbs. Carbs at every meal are a revelation. Especially at dinner. I'm more satisfied, more energised and I don't wake up in the middle of the night clutching my stomach. Although I had an image of myself being the wellness guru that lives solely on greens and wakes naturally at dawn, refreshed and relaxed, I woke up two hours before my alarm, tired and trying to resist eating my own pyjamas.
9) You will be better connected with people you love. You don't cancel plans so you can go for a run. You'll spend dinners really listening to your pals and not analysing how many calories are in the sharing platter. Food can be become something that connects you, not something that pushes you apart.
10) It isn't a given, but odds are you will be happier. Not all day everyday, but every day is a little bit easier when your base level isn't hating your body and beating yourself up for eating bread. There will still be days, like today, when you get sad that old clothes don't fit but you will be more rational. When you're properly, consistently well fed and rested, you won't slam doors. Your temper won't be so short. You won't be in a constant state of hanger where you snap at any minor inconvenience. You will be a bit more you.