I will be the first to put up my hand and say that I have a long standing, extremely poor relationship with food. I’m one of those poor sods who eats to squash their emotions rather than expressing them and dealing with those things that cause anger, fear, grief, frustration. Over the years, my weight has ballooned from the healthy range of 10st 7ibs – 12st for my height (I am 5ft 8ins) up to nearly 19st, before dropping back down to 13st. Typically, my problem with food has gone hand in hand with an utter loathing for my body, regardless of how much I weigh. I am not built in such a way as to be socially acceptable according to current fashions. I have never been stick thin, and being broad shouldered and broad hipped, I have always felt as though I am too big, too heavy, too broad to be considered attractive. Run alongside my problems with depression, this has ended up being a vicious circle of eat, put on weight, crash diet and lose weight, get depressed because I still don’t feel attractive, eat, put on weight, and so on and so forth. Recently, after an incredibly hectic summer followed by a fairly minor operation which rendered me unable to exercise for three or four weeks, I realised I had gone back up to 14st 9ibs after regaining all my old bad habits of snacking on junk when I feel bad – sugary sweets, crisps, ice cream and related snacks. Something had to give – and something did, much to my relief.
First, I made the sudden decision that I wanted to go lactose and dairy product free for a little while. I don’t know quite what made me suddenly decide this, but I decided to follow my gut instinct and do it. Then I decided it was high time I cut out sugar again, and after a 24 hour fast, my body had got used to not having sugary foods. Instead, I went to the local veg shop and staggered back out with ten tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables, then stocked up on dried pulses like chickpeas. Fresh root ginger and garlic and a wider range of herbs and spices were next on the list, and then, fully equipped, I headed back home to play in the kitchen.
I’ve never been much of a cook. I’ve always much preferred to eat food than mess around cooking with it, probably because my first attempts at trying to cook something often ended up in disaster and, as I was living with my ex partner at the time, the results ended up being thrown out in disgust. Dreadfully wasteful and not exactly likely to encourage a girl to try again! Perhaps this discouragement is where the root of my problems with food starts, with hindsight, compounded by a tendency towards getting depressed and reaching for the food as a way to make myself feel better. I realised yet again that I needed to change my attitude towards food itself. Dieting doesn’t work for me. As soon as I tell myself I cannot have a food that I want, I immediately want it all the more. Instead, I resolved to begin learning how to nurture myself with food instead of viewing both it and my body as the enemy, and do so by cooking my own meals and learning how to blend ingredients into delicious recipes.
And this is where it gets slightly strange, because the same day I made that decision, the usual amazon vine email turned up. (Amazon vine is a programme that gives free books to certain reviewers who have a track record of leaving well written, in depth reviews. Its awesome and I love it – though my bookshelves probably don’t agree, as they are currently groaning under the weight of my library!) But I digress. On the newsletter in question were two particularly interesting looking books on cooking – Sophie Grigson’s ‘Spices’ and Niamh Shields’ ‘Comfort and Spice’, both of which are absolutely delightful and highly recommended. What was odd about it is that at first glance, both books seemed to be predominantly about cooking with spices. I absolutely love spices – ginger, cinnamon, paprika, tumeric, you name it, I love it. I love the smell of them, the taste of them, just the sight of jars of them lined up in the kitchen waiting for me to concoct stuff. So I gleefully ordered both of these two gorgeous books, and, a few days later, they turned up. This is where it gets even more interesting – because along side spices, I have always loved certain types of fruit and veg. Parsnips, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, fresh root ginger and garlic, figs, sharon fruit, anything with thick, luscious, comforting flesh that I can roast and stew and make delicious things with. I borrowed a book off an acupuncturist colleague about chinese dietary therapy – named ‘Recipes for Self Healing’ by Daverick Leggett (also highly recommended). My acupuncturist friend, after a brief chat which was mostly a whinge on my part about how tired and grumpy and sluggish I felt, sagely suggested that I probably had a spleen deficiency. After an evening spent reading the aforementioned book, I realised that all the foods that I particularly love eating are in fact the ones that are recommended for those with a spleen deficiency. Bingo! Not only had I figured out what on earth was causing my imbalance, but I now had a LEGITIMATE EXCUSE to eat all the fruits and vegetables that I particularly loved. The best thing about it is that now that I have started to eat these sorts of things in larger quantities, my need and even interest in chocolate and sugary stuff has pretty much vanished. I feel healthier, brighter, more lively and best of all, I’ve begun experimenting in the kitchen again. I feel as though I’ve shaken off something that I’d been dragging behind me for years, as though I have stopped punishing myself for being female with a body that tends towards curves and extra weight and have instead made the decision to nurture myself with food instead of punish myself with either an excess of sugar and crap or with extreme crash diets that work in the short term but ultimately set restrictions that I cannot keep to. Best of all, I’m losing weight, and I am doing it easily, without forbidding myself anything. I chose not to eat sugar or dairy – but it isn’t a struggle for me to do this.
I suppose what I am trying to get at with this post is that once you get the need for sugar out of your system, you’re much more able to learn to listen to your body and what it is telling you about the foods you need. I have always loved particular fruits and vegetables, but actually listening to my body’s need for them and indulging myself in fresh fruit and home made meals has removed the urge to reach for the foods that ultimately make me ill. The underlying point is that we all have off days, when we need someone else to look after us, even though many of us don’t know how to ask for the help that we need, when we need it. Food is, however, within your control, and very achievable. I’ve begun learning how to roll up my sleeves and get in the kitchen to provide myself with tasty and healthy meals, and it is something I would encourage everyone to do – I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get the message! Food and eating shouldn’t be a punishment – it should be a way to comfort, support and nurture yourself with the healthy food that you deserve. I’m cautiously optimistic that through food and learning how to nurture myself and those I love with it, I will gain a far better opinion of myself and my body as a woman.
Ok. I’ll get off my soap box now. 😉