I have been obsessed with food, dieting, exercise and my weight since becoming anorexic 28 years ago, as a 15 year old school kid. After a fairly torrid 5 or so years, I gradually improved and was – what I assumed to be – only as obsessed with my body as the next girl. I’d stopped counting the calories of everything I put into my body. I stopped purging (regularly anyway). I stopped throwing myself onto the floor (minor self-harming) in desperation or exasperation at whatever the scales said. I went from 46 – 47kgs to, well, anything really. I never really evened out. I initially gained weight before staying at around 70 – 75kgs for a year. Then up to 88kgs or so (first time I joined Weight Watchers). Then down to 75kgs, then up to 97kgs, then to about 85kgs. Then up to 105kgs. Then down to 90kgs. Then up to 120kgs and down to 110kgs, then up to 120kgs and down to 95kgs. Then up to 115kgs, down to 90kgs. Up to 110kgs where I hovered for a while (and owned no scales for about 2 – 3 years) then up to 124kgs (starting Fat Camp), down to 110kgs (finishing Fat Camp only a month later), to 107kgs then up to 130kgs. So…. you can see that – even if I have lost the anorexic / dieting mindset – my body hasn’t ever really settled into any set weight.
So, have I really ‘recovered’?
In early 1995 I went to Portugal (to learn Portuguese before going to volunteer in a Portuguese-speaking African country for 2 years). I was there for nearly 2 months and kept a diary of my time there. I am not sure I still have it, but I still remember – several weeks into my time – reading back over early entries and being horrified at how obsessed I was with food, diet and exercise. I was (I thought) WAY past my anorexia then. I weighed about 83kgs (from memory) and had been playing a lot of sport before setting off on my overseas adventure. I walked to and from my classes (across Lisbon each day) but I recall the family with whom I was staying didn’t really cook for me, or include me in their meals, so I lived on junk food or other food easily accessed with my limited Portuguese. I still recall (on reading that diary) how shocked I was that each entry was more about food and exercise than it was about my experience there. I realised – for the first time – how my obsession was impacting on the rest of my life and meant that I wasn’t ‘taking time to smell the roses’ or living in the now, but rather existing in some fugue state, constantly riddled with guilt or relief – depending on what food I had consumed that day.
This is all in my consciousness at the moment because, in going through an old box last night, I came across diaries from the mid 2000s (2003 – 2004). I had just stalled on Weight Watchers (having lost about 20kgs and reached 90kgs). Again NO DAY PASSED without me going ON AND ON about what I had eaten or not eaten, or what exercise I had done. Or how much I hated my body, or how men don’t like me because I am so overweight. Little did I know how big I would really get one day! Every single entry includes these obsessive thoughts. I remember too, emails home to my parents were similarly full of confessions about what I’d eaten or how I hadn’t exercised. Of course I was supposed to be dieting during this time so it should have been on my mind, but not to the extent it was. Or still is.
When I am ‘not dieting’ now, I am guilty about how much crap I am eating and feel disgusted at myself and my body. When I am ‘dieting’ I am obsessed with what I can and can’t eat, angry that I have to diet at all and feel SO deprived – as if my world is ending and someone is forcing this punishment upon me.
What I do realise is that life is passing me by and I am sitting on the sidelines, like an understudy waiting in the wings of a theatre, or a disgruntled reserve player on the bench, itching to get into the game, but not being given the chance. The problem is that here, I am also the coach and the one calling the shots. Only I can make the changes to put myself in the game. But can I?