I wear short shorts

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I have basically spent every weekend this summer wearing this pair of shorts. I love them and I love how I look in them.

They haven’t always been shorts. They were once a pair of jeans that I cut off when I got bored of them. My Mum suggested I’d cut them too short. I probably rolled my eyes at her.

Once upon a time I used to be self-conscious about wearing short shorts. As you can see, I have quite big thighs and a fair bit of cellulite. But I love my legs. Why? Because they mean I can WALK and RUN and CYCLE and DANCE and a whole load of other things that I am so grateful for. And the more I wear shorts, the more I like how my legs look in shorts.

Other women, including those with much thinner or more muscular thighs than me, have told me how lucky I am to be able to go out wearing shorts. Everyone can wear shorts. Like those widely shared instructions on how to have a bikini body (have a bode, put a bikini on it), my guide to wearing shorts are basically to just fucking wear the shorts. Yes, the first time (and maybe the next) requires some bravery. But it soon feels normal.

And today? I’m wearing shorts when I haven’t even shaved my legs in several weeks. Shocker.

Three things I’ve learnt from the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Programme

I signed up to the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Programme because I felt as though my sugar eating was out of control, and didn’t think I could get it under control on my own. I had tried to quit sugar without any support but always lapsed after a few days, and by lapsed I mean “binge ate a whole box of Thorntons chocolates and then beat myself up about it”. Having the structure of a programme was helpful, as was spending money on it. I was keen for the cash I’d parted to be an investment in my health, which meant that this time I took it much more seriously than those previous half-hearted attempts.

These are some things that I learnt:

1. It’s good to be forced out of your routine and try different things. Using the recipes provided in the meal plan expanded the repertoire of meals I feel confident preparing, and introduced me to foods and combinations I would not otherwise have thought of trying. It made me realise that I had been stuck in a food rut: eating the same things each week. I like my habits and routine, and the thought of having something other than my usual cereal and soya milk unnerved me a little bit. Now I have a much more creative approach to breakfast and eat a variety of different options throughout the week.

2. I don’t need sugar. This might seem like stating the obvious, but it can be difficult to remember when you’re in the midst of a craving. I don’t think I’d ever not given it to a craving before, so it was a good discovery that they do go away if you ignore them, and get less frequent if you can get into the habit of ignoring them.

3. But I do want sugar. I must admit that I have had a few lapses. I was tempted into buying a cone of icecream when I was hanging out with a group of friends for my birthday. Usually, I would feel really guilty after eating ice-cream and also not be able to stop. This time, I found that I was satisfied by a couple of scoops. I really really enjoyed the icecream but it wasn’t followed by the usual pang of guilt because I knew that I didn’t need sugar, hadn’t had it for a couple of weeks, and was equally able to not eat it for a few more. I will never give up sugar entirely because I want to have the occasional treat. But making it just an occasional treat has been much better for my headaches, my mental health and my enjoyment of it.

So while the programme hasn’t made me quit sugar, it’s made me feel much more in control of my eating. While I doubt I’ll ever be completely free of disordered eating, I’ve found that staying off the sugar is managing to break the cycle of binge eating and purging. For me, this programme has been much more about improving my mental rather than physical health. Even though I have actually put on weight, cooking healthy things from scratch has made me feel much more in control of my eating which is in turn making me feel much better about how I look. For this reason, I think paying for the 8 week programme has been a pretty wise investment, even if I haven’t used the meal plan much since about week five.

5 things I learnt from a (mostly) makeup free week

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Last Saturday morning I found myself away from home and without any make up. I usually wear eyeliner and mascara every day without thinking about it, but a day of having to go without made me a) realise being make up free is not a big deal and b) wonder if I could  do it for a week. Here are some things that I learnt from the experience:

  1. It’s nice not to worry about smudging. It was pretty windy on Monday and my eyes were watering while I was cycling to work. I caught myself worrying what my eye make-up looked like when I remembered, “Wait, I’m not wearing any!” So that saved me two minutes and a tissue. It’s also pretty awesome to be able to rub your eyes (or is when you spend as much time staring at a computer screen as I do) and wash your face a few times during the day.
  2. You get used to it. I don’t really like the way I look without make up. This doesn’t really affect me in a big way because my self esteem comes from elsewhere. But I probably needed the weekend (two days of the only people seeing me without make up being the people who are used to seeing me without make up) in order to recalibrate my perception of how I looked in the mirror before going make up free to work.
  3. Some people are worth breaking rules for. So okay, I did put some eyeliner and mascara on to go out with my boyfriend on Tuesday evening. Obviously it wouldn’t matter to him in the slightest and he’s seen me plenty of times make up free, but I wanted to make some kind of effort with my appearance, and make up is part of the ritual of getting dressed up.
  4. You don’t get that used to it. I’ll be wearing mascara again tomorrow. It might be better in the summer but right now I’m so pale every time I catch a glimpse of myself I think I look washed out and ill.
  5. Despite looking washed out and ill, it didn’t affect my confidence. I actually forgot about it most of the time. I bet most people didn’t notice I wasn’t wearing make up, they certainly didn’t treat me any differently (why would they?), further reinforcing my theory that most of our neuroses about appearance exist entirely in our own heads.

 

How (not) to talk about food

I made a new years resolution to write about the most challenging thing that happens to me each week, and then I quickly broke it, choosing to write some guff about social media instead because writing about things that you struggle with is fucking difficult. But let’s at least try to get to the end of January with this.

My challenge this week is that I’ve encountered a lot of diet talk, mostly at work. I get it, it’s January, a lot of people want to loose weight and they want to talk about it. But I struggle with diet talk a lot.

Mainly, I struggle because I don’t know what to say. When a perfectly well-meaning lovely person asks you if something is fattening, or tries to engage you in a conversation about how “good” they’re being by eating yoghurt for breakfast, you want to say something friendly. You don’t want to explain how anxious this conversation is making you because of your previous eating disorders, and how much of a battle it’s been to have a semi-normal relationship with food. So you make some flippant remark about how when something is low in fat it is usually high in sugar. You don’t explain how you know this much about sugar, fat and calorie content, and how much of your valuable time has been spent thinking about this kind of crap when really, you had so much more you could have been doing. Like studying for a degree.

Because actually, I don’t want to think any of these thoughts any more. I don’t want to think about why a food might be fattening, because then I feel guilty for eating it. Then that guilt makes me feel bad about how I look. Maybe it’ll make me feel bad enough about myself to not eat anything for dinner, or to eat a lot but then make myself vomit it up afterwards. Or maybe it won’t, but feeling guilty about food is a bad thing in itself – and something I want to leave behind.

But people talking about diets make me think about this crap. And people talk about diets all the sodding time. I don’t think they realise this, and how triggering it can be for anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder. Earlier this week, a friend of mine tweeted: “And we’re back to talking about the 5:2 diet in work and what a 500 calories a day looks like. I’m hiding in the toilets.” I knew exactly how she felt.

If you are on a diet, fine. Do what you need to do. Just please don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about what you are eating and why. And please don’t place any value judgements on different types of food. It’s not good for any of us. It normalises unhealthy attitudes to food, the pressure to be on a diet, and the notion that everyone should be striving to be thinner.

I hate talking about food in this way, as though the only merit of a particular type of food is the calorie, fat or sugar content. I really really hate it.

So here’s how you should talk about food:

  1. Talk about what it tastes like. You’ve chosen your lunch because it tastes awesome.
  2. Talk about how to make food taste awesome- swap tips and recipes.
  3. Talk about something incredible that you’ve eaten lately – at a new restaurant, or while travelling.
  4. Talk about when we’re going to go get some awesome food.

And here’s how you shouldn’t talk about food:

  1. Don’t talk about food in a way that’s going to take all the pleasure out of it, in a way that suggests you’re only eating it to be thin. Food is so much more than this. It is there to be enjoyed.
  2. Don’t talk about food in a way that’s going to make someone else feel guilty or feel as though they should only be eating 500 calories today as well.
  3. Do not talk about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food. No food is “good” or “bad”. Nutrition is a complex thing – something might be high in fat but also high in vitamins. Something might be low in fat but high in sugar. Sugar might be less nutritionally valuable but it tastes great, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Especially, do not talk about how eating a particular type of food makes you a “good” or “bad” person. For example, “Oh, I shouldn’t but…”
  5. Do not talk about food as though eating is something to be ashamed of. For example “We need to hide these sweets.”

As a kind of footnote, I should mention that I’m already having second thoughts about publishing this. I’m worrying: will people think I’m criticizing them? (I’m not) Am I being a killjoy? Do I have any right to ask people not to talk about this? Shouldn’t I be better at managing my own issues with food so that this isn’t a problem? Actually, think talking about food in this way is helpful to everyone, not just people with “food issues”. Let’s reclaim food from the diet industry. Yeah.

5 steps to my perfect body

At the weekend my Mum told me she had decided she needed to lose weight, and that could I offer any advice: “Because you look great but you’re always eating.” I told her what I tell anyone when they say something like this to me: “You don’t need to lose weight.” In my experience, people don’t hate their bodies because they need to lose weight, they hate their bodies because they hate their bodies.

Losing weight won’t stop you hating your body. I should know, I hated my body for years. Years wasted being frightened of food, either eating too little or inhaling vast quantities of the stuff before spending hours in the bathroom with my fingers down my throat. Years thinking that I couldn’t wear the kind of clothes I wanted to, thinking I would never be one of those girls who go out looking hot, or who could have sex with the lights on.

There was never anything wrong with how I looked, but I always thought I needed to lose weight. Until I learnt how to love how I looked (then ironically, I did lose weight).

So that would be my advice to anyone who want to lose weight: learn how to love your body. Your new found happiness and lack of anxiety about food might, like me, cause you to drop a few pounds. But if you don’t it won’t matter, because you’ll be seeing the real awesome you, not a number on a scale.

It’s difficult to break out of that negative cycle of poor body image. I’m lucky now to be in a place where I can laugh at all the shit people talk about it. And they do talk a lot of shit. Only recently, somebody told me I looked great and asked if I was on a diet. I told her I wasn’t, adding that it was most probably caused by anxiety. She replied, without hesitation, “Oh so maybe I should get a long term boyfriend, then break up with him, and I might lose weight.” I’m not kidding. I’ve also been told how good I look when I’ve been really ill. I even met people in India who were trying to get tapeworms because they were so desperate to lose weight. That’s how messed up we are about body image: we would risk heartache and disease to have more slender thighs.

So I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what worked for me. It’s been a long old journey, but here are the things that happened that helped me love how my body looks.

  1. I escaped Western culture for six months while I worked for a charity serving a slum community in India. I didn’t see any magazines or any television. I dressed in traditional shalwar kameez: designed to hide my figure but always in the most beautiful colours and fabrics. I also had a reality check, coming across people who had what I perceived to be very little: but who were generous, house-proud and almost always hopeful. After half a year of twice daily curries, amazing street food, and super sweet tea I weighed two stone more than when I arrived. But I was more confident about how I looked than I had ever been.
  2. When I returned to the UK I took up running to release the pent up frustration that comes from a long distance relationship and fruitless job searching. I learnt to love my body because of what it can do. My chunky thighs mean that I can run up hills without stopping. I am strong. I can do anything.
  3. I got paid to take my clothes off. At a party, someone tells me that she models for life drawing classes and that the artist she works for is always looking for different bodies: would I be interested? I immediately dismiss it but can’t seem to start thinking about the idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be confident enough to model naked in front of a room full of people? I became a life model and find it not to be awkward or embarrassing  but liberating, empowering and also really meditative. I always left classes buzzing, and at £12 an hour it paid more than my office job at the time.
  4. I learnt how to cook good nourishing food. I slowly teach myself not to be afraid of it any more. I’ve always been a foodie, but had previously only associated eating with guilt. Learning to make it helped me get over this, and enabled me to start enjoying going out to eat. Now I can’t stop eating, or talking about food. I daydream about flavour combinations and what I’m going to cook for dinner.
  5. I wear what I like. Not what blogs or magazines say petite pear-shaped women should wear, but exactly what I want. I don’t dress in what I believe to work well for my figure, or to hide the bad bits (there are no bad bits!) I dress in what makes me feel awesome.

So to summarise, I suppose my advice would be: stop reading magazines, stop believing what you see on TV, get moving and get naked. Don’t let anybody tell you what to eat and don’t let anybody tell you what to wear. Be awesome, be bad-ass, and be you. Not you in a smaller dress size: you.