WEIRD FASCINATION SERIES - Diets - I'm a FOWAD!
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Having done some building work in our house, I had a chuckle to myself as I returned my cook books to the brand-new shelves my Dad fashioned for me in the cubby hole in my kitchen. There’s Joe Wicks, Hairy Dieters, Vegan On the Go, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Weight Watchers Recipes, Slimming World Favourites, Blood Sugar Diet, Clever Guts Diet, Eat for your Metabolism, Blood Group Diet, The Kitchen Doctor….all sorts! Am I the only one with a shelf like this?
Meanwhile, online, we are bombarded by the latest ideas for losing weight, gaining weight, melting off the fat (what even is that?!), eating to suit our body, plant-based eating, eating from the earth, whole food, high protein, good fat………WTF?! SHUT UP!!!!!!
A short while ago I decided I was well and truly in the FOWAD camp – F**ked Off With All Diets!
My first experience of trying to get on top of my weight was visiting Judy, the school nurse, in our local surgery. My Mum took me when I was about 15. Judy told me to swap our butter at home for Gold Spread – yuck! I don’t remember why, or anything else about her advice, but I have never bought Gold Spread since! If they don’t make it anymore, fear not…there are plenty of other revolting butter alternatives out there!!!
A few years later I went to my first weight loss group meeting. It worked or a while, but the enormity of the journey ahead overwhelmed me and I felt the mountain was just too huge to climb, on top of A Levels and the upheaval of leaving for university. Uni (x 3) was an awesome 9 years, but also brought all manner of poor habits my way, and I was always conscious that my weight was affecting so many things in life – most notably my sense of identity and my self-confidence.
Like most other women in their 40s, I have tried lots of different things to ‘sort myself out’; some sensible, some not so. I did lose weight with slimming groups successfully to become pregnant with my 1st child, and to lose the ‘baby weight’ after my 2nd son, that I’d actually been carrying around since puberty! I found these only worked for me when I totally embraced being part of the group setting, so much so that I took over as the Consultant when I got to my target weight. I had hoped that ‘giving back’ would help keep me
on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, all it did was break my spirit. My friends had to watch me go under again as I battled to support others on their journey whilst losing my own way, overwhelmed by the constant spotlight as the living, breathing example all the time. I was afraid to eat a cake in the local coffee shop with my children, or order chips with dinner in case I was spotted doing it. This drove all my foodie behaviours underground again – reigniting habits I thought I’d beaten and left behind.
Thankfully, I recognised this quickly and stepped away before it broke me. However, in pursuit of what I had started to lose a grip on, I then became really overwhelmed by yet obsessed with all the alternatives out there. I had dropped 5 stone with my slimming group, so my body fat was much less than it had been, but so was my shape and muscle form. Yes, I felt slim, but I also felt tired and weak a lot of the time and my boobs had totally vanished - and I’ve never been blessed with massive hooters like my best buddies!
After a little hunting around, it seemed to be that I needed to increase my good fats and proteins, and switch to lower carbs too. That sounded ‘do-able’, but without really understanding how to do that, my weight started creeping up again. The switch to eating almost no carbs just made me feel even more tired, yet the excess protein and fat I was trying to get in was actually being stored as more fat. I tried going to the gym more, but that made me more hungry, want to eat more and yet again I was in the whirlpool of everything slipping out of control again. Switching proper meals for meal replacements didn’t help either and I just felt like I was doomed to fail again and that the weight loss I had been so proud of was clearly ‘never mine’ to be proud of in the 1st place.
I tried to eat certain foods that were supposed to work for my blood type; I tried eating low carbs, sugar free, plant based, detox, all fuelled by whatever info was passing under my ever-obsessing nose from one day to the next!
One night, I realised I was rarely sitting to eat the same meal as my 2 boys. This might not seem like a big deal, but as a family, we have always tried to eat together. I believe it’s such an important part of family life; for social and emotional as much as logistical and dietary reasons. Whilst I was still sitting to eat with them, it wasn’t the same meal. They were getting all the usual family meal favourites, so it wasn’t like I was trying to avoid eating processed beige shite that I’d try at all costs to avoid feeding them anyway! I was missing out of Spaghetti Bolognese, Fish Pie, Curry, Lasagne, my absolute favourite Risotto dishes, gammon steaks, tuna-melt jackets, all in favour of a plain chicken breast and some steamed broccoli before I went for a run.
Our children look to us as the blueprint for their own foodie habits. What are you doing at the table with them right now? Do you need to STOP IT?!
I’d had enough! I decided it was time to go back to basics. I am a scientist and I have always been fascinated by the way the human body works. I understand the fundamentals of good nutrition but had become utterly overwhelmed at all these ‘expert opinions’ from those who knew better than me what was good for me……. No they bloody don’t!
Only we know our own bodies. As a group consultant I was forever telling my members they needed to understand how their bodies and food worked (or didn’t) together. This was not the party line to take and caused much friction with my managers. However, it is what the scientist in me has always known to be true. Some people can live on bucket loads of pasta…..I can’t. Some people can eat bread without gaining a single lb… I can’t. I can however, happily eat plenty of rice and I love jacket potatoes. I love meat, but know I can eat chicken, lamb and turkey more easily than digesting steak or pork. I adore fish and seafood, but know swallowing a snot-like oyster is never going to happen, because there are some textures like that, and liver, which are never going to grace my palette by choice!! Some people can eat brassica vegetables and beans and pulses with no adverse effect on their bowels. I cannot say the same for my housemate J at university, who was also banned from eating tinned hotdogs! Some things work with us and some don’t. Fact.
After a great dinner table conversation with my boys one night about our digestive systems and poo (yep – boy-mummas have all the fun at teatime!) I decided to go back to school. I wanted to dig deeper into my understanding of the human body and the digestive system in particular to understand why our bodies do what they do in response to food. Whilst this is quite an extreme way of working through my foodie ways, I have realised that my attitude to food-body specificity is right. We are all different. Whilst our human biology has the same fundamental principles, our biochemical and microbiological make up is different. We have different levels of circulating molecules, hormones and messengers, different microbial populations inhabiting our guts and all of these interacting with the individual chemical components of the foods we eat and the environmental stimuli we are subjected to. Stress is also a massive factor in the dynamics of modern life.
After some investigations with a great local kinesiologist, I determined that the ridiculous stresses I’d been putting my body through for years had actually left me with a couple of food intolerances. My body was cross with me! This is common if you have relied heavily on that food, eating masses of it in pursuit of the changes it promises in the current media hypes and trends around food and diets. Your body actually responds it’s own way asking you what the f**k you are actually doing! Again….STOP IT!
As a PhD qualified biological scientist and someone who works in the field of health and wellbeing you’d have thought I’d have known better right? No, I’m also human and refuse to keep making myself feel shit about what I eat and the size of my arse from one week to the next. I am utterly FOWAD!
Yes, I still have hang ups about that kind of stuff and not every day is perfect – I’ll take 75% thanks. I am sick of feeling like a failure again and again; a less attractive person because I was buying size 12-14 clothes instead of a size 10-12; less valued because I had not managed to maintain my target weight; less worthy of affection from others; less respected professionally. STOP IT!
I’m a 43-year-old mum of 2 utterly awesome boys and a lunatic of a cocker spaniel puppy! I run my own business from home, having rebuilt our lives after being widowed unexpectedly at 40, and I’m doing the best I can. I have realised that eating with my family is more important, and that being interested, but not obsessed with what I eat, has revolutionised my whole attitude to food.
Making small changes to what I shop for, cook and eat has made real differences to my shape and I like what I see. Making small changes to some of the activities I enjoy has also produced pleasing results. Ridding myself of my unrealistic expectations of myself and my options has also helped. The attitude of #changeonething and the compound effect of those changes has been a real revelation. That’s the basis on which now I work with my nutrition clients to help them achieve the changes they are looking for.
I hope the fact that I’m human too reminds them we are not supposed to be perfect…..75% is the new Gold Standard for me…and that’s the only Gold I’m ever going to encourage them to go get!