As I write this, I eat my usual budget pub lunch of half a pint of Symonds cider and a bowl of thick chips with mayonnaise. Since going freelance, I’ve done this a lot – sit in a pub and type at my laptop. You see, I don’t believe in coffee, because I think it tastes like my high school math teacher’s breath, and I’ve learned that life is too short to not do what you want, which for me is drinking alcohol at noon and working on my first novel.
Someone said recently that they were jealous of me for having my “life worked out” at such a young age, and just to clarify I certainly don’t (I mean, I’m drinking at noon), but I do know that even at such a young age I wasted enough time being hard on myself and preventing myself from eating exactly what I wanted in an effort to look smaller and I’m just not prepared to do that anymore.
For many years, like many people, I believed that to be skinnier was to be healthier and more importantly to me at the time, it meant to be more attractive. It was a sign of will power, of self care and self respect, and I was determined to remain as skinny as possible under any regime possible, because then my life would be on track for success. For a long time, I was what you would describe as skinny, but the difference was that I didn’t feel headed for success. I felt headed for a heart attack, since the reason I was so small was because I’d been repeatedly vomiting what I ate into the toilet rather than allow my body to digest the nutrients, or worse the dreaded calories. Most of all, throughout this time of pure obsession and a worsening mental illness, I was deeply unhappy and depressed. I knew things couldn’t remain this way forever. I knew that I couldn’t live my life with the only thing I was proud of being the number on the scales.
Luckily for me, it wasn’t forever. I discovered Not Plant Based, or rather Not Plant Based discovered me. When we first launched the website, I was still of the thinking that skinny was best, and embarked on an absurd gym phase where I’d go six times a week and pretend I enjoyed lifting weights. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I enjoy being a lazy shit, and that I’d much rather spend my mornings sleeping and my evenings eating sharing bags of chocolate buttons. Our work on Not Plant Based, all the science, stories and the message we were pushing: That eating what you love isn’t so bad and that how you look shouldn’t dictate what you eat, got me thinking…maybe I should believe this message, too?
I think it’s important to practise what you preach, and I felt uncomfortable advising other women to love themselves while I was still struggling to do so. So I did. I started. I started eating exactly what I wanted, when I wanted and stopped when I wanted. Initially, it all felt a bit chaotic. My grip on control was spilling beyond the boundaries I had set for years and I began to survive like a child in a sweet shop, eating all the treats I’d deprived myself for so long urgently and greedily. If that meant cake for breakfast lunch and dinner, so be it – and a lot of times it did. A few weeks past, and these urges relaxed. I found myself feeling comfortable around menus and eating between meal times – sometimes I’d even wake up in the middle of the night because I fancied a sandwich. Eventually, I was able to separate my urge to binge with how I truly wanted to eat.
Something amazing happened. I put on weight. I hadn’t weighed myself in over a year, but I knew I had because my clothes stopped fitting and a doctor told me so during a routine check up. But, something even more amazing happened: I didn’t give a fuck. I stopped worrying about my belly sticking out too far or my thighs touching when I walked. In fact, I actually started to like how I looked with more meat on my bones, a little more zaftig. A little more jiggle. Most importantly though, I felt confident, strong and ready to break the necks of anyone who disagreed with my changed body. (I must apologise if this story seems very similar to my updated story, by the way. But only for a moment, because being comfortable with weight gain is a big deal for someone who has spent a third of their life from running away from it.)
I’m lucky with my shape, I know. I’m what some might describe as “acceptably curvy”. I’ve boobs, a bum and a relatively small waist. Although I’ve got a couple of purple stretch marks on my hips, cellulite that I never had before and a few more spider veins, I know that I can in no way relate to the struggles of people who are bigger than me, or those who don’t fit the ideal shape of curve that Instagram loves to put in your explore feed, because fatphobia can make their lives a living hell. I made the mistake recently of believing that I could relate to someone who was fat because I had put on weight, and embarrassed myself righteously by assuming she had had “weight issues” in the past, because she was fat. She put me in my place, telling me that to be fat is not a bad thing, and it made me reassess my own views on fat people, because I am not fat and probably never will be.
We live in a world that hates fat people, despite the good work the body positive movement has done. Even the NHS promotes weight loss as a way to get healthier, very often ignoring the other factors that play into why someone is fat, instead looking at a BMI chart for guidance. According to this chart, if your BMI is classed in the overweight, obese or very obese category then you’re, “heavier than is healthy”. A BMI of 18-25 is considered “healthy”; 25-30 overweight and 30+ obese. Anything lower than 18 is technically classed as “underweight”. Life becomes even harder for fat people with eating disorders, as you only quality for the best treatment if your BMI is below 17, and often times you are not believed because of your size. On the NHS website, you can see what category you fall into, and download the NHS’s weight loss plan accordingly. My own BMI right now, and what it was before, is unimportant for both myself and the reader, but also I believe for my health. A large part of health if how you feel. I feel great, and it is not my right to tell a fat person how they feel, despite their BMI.
Apologies for lazy journalism and regurgitating Eve’s piece on why being overweight isn’t bad for you, but it is too good. Carl Lavie, the Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology at the University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, said: “Whilst it’s true that weight gain increases blood pressure and worsens lipids & blood sugar. It’s a myth that being overweight dooms people to poor survival. Low fitness is a much greater threat to health than carrying a few extra pounds. Overweight and obese people who maintain decent fitness have a much better prognosis than those who are lean, but unfit.”
What my weight gain has taught me, besides the fact that it is not a bad thing to do so, is that we need to think more carefully about how we treat fat people, and that if we (which we at Not Plant Based do) believe that everyone deserves the freedom to be happy and to eat as they wish, we need to afford that same luxury to anyone of any size, not just the acceptably curvy. Weight is secondary, and is not a true indicator of your health. Happiness for me is what comes first, and I can say in confidence that I am finally happy.