Updated: May 18
Massive trigger warnings for the content below.
I’m not an eating disorder specialist. Nor am I a nutritionist or someone who’s done extensive research into this area of food and hunger.
But I’ve done a fair bit of reading and gone through a journey of weight loss and weight gain, food guilt and overexercise. So this little snippet below is going to talk about hunger, food, weight gain and weight loss, from the experiences I’ve encountered and conversations I’ve had with my friends and family:
Growing up, there was always the right amount of food to eat, or the right time to eat something.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks were at a fixed time, and the amount that was considered a ‘good’ amount to eat was also set. The general connotation was that the more the actual number, the less ‘good’ it was. I.e. 3 was considered good and healthy, and anything above 5 was considered more and unhealthy. I.e. Fattening.
Especially when I’d gained weight, it became even more of a pressure.
To put it quite simply, I was told that being thin was the solution to getting a partner. That if I was fat, it wasn’t going to happen. Being thin had a lot of good connotations. It meant my family was kinder to me. It meant my peers were kinder to me, and I was considered more attractive.
Looking back at the age of 15, I wasn’t even that heavy. Was I? I can hear the voice, questioning values and experiences in my own head.
How do you even define it, because weight can be so relative, right?
After having gained weight for a little bit of my teenage years, at 17, I stopped. Not by some miraculous discovery. I went to the method of what a lot of self-conscious teenagers do: I controlled what I ate, and I exercised, and I lost weight and I controlled what I ate even more, and I didn’t even realise that I’d slipped into this habit of complete and utter criticism for what I put in my body.
More = bad, and less = good. Fried food = bad. Sugar = bad. White flour = bad. This list, is endless.
Over the course of the pandemic I’ve gained weight. Whilst this seems to be a common theme and there is an endless list of inspirational figures talking about self-love when it comes to the body, it feels fucking exhausting.
Recently an incident with a friend of mine, I had this lightbulb moment that came up for me. It’s literally as simple as this:
Hunger isn’t defined at a fixed time or how much you eat. Hunger is your brain telling you that you need to feed yourself.
How simple is that? It’s not based on a number of items that you’ve previously eaten. It’s not based on a time that you last ate or should eat at.
It’s not based on your weight.
It’s based on so many different factors. Stress. Hormones. (God, hormones!!!) What’s happened that day. Have you eaten earlier that day? What was your meal like the previous day even, I’ve realised.
Whilst I believe the brain is a powerful organ, I don’t believe in the whole “drink water when you’re hungry because it’s your brain tricking you to eat because you’re bored.” (And I’ve heard that. From a doctor). If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it and we’d all be on a water-diet.
This is where diet-culture can be so toxic.
But like I said, I don’t have enough knowledge to speak entirely about diet cultures, and this aspect in itself is fairly triggering so I’m going to move on.
My lightbulb moment: I was listening to a conversation between my friends, them debating on whether or not to order food in. And my one friend says this: “Oh I ate an hour ago and I don’t think it’s time for me to eat my next meal yet.”
And all I could think was 2 things: this is so ingrained, and this doesn’t make any sense. If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. Why isn’t it as simple as that?
As soon as we are born, our body tells us when we are hungry and when we are not. It’s over time based on external factors (family, schooling, social media, the pressure to look a certain way) that it all goes for a toss. The forceful need for a routine. The need to make sure your plate is finished so food doesn’t go to waste or because someone believes we ‘haven’t eaten enough.’
Every body is unique in its own way, and as we grow, there’s so much about food, body image, hunger, fitness, weight gain and weight loss, that is simply thrust upon us, so much so that we completely get lost in the jargon of information that is out there.
To have gone through the journey of restricting myself, of worrying and guilting myself for the food that I’ve eaten… At some point during the pandemic, I was just done. To quote Julia Roberts in ‘Eat Pray Love’, “I have no interest in being obese; I’m just through with the guilt.” (Not commenting on overall physical health, because not my place and not my expertise; just a phrase I could really resonate to but took me years to actually accept.)
Quite simply put, in terms of restriction, I was done eating fried food and torturing myself for not exercising the following day.
I was done not eating fried food because I was scared of putting on weight.
I was done eating anything sweet and also, torturing myself for not working out to “Take the weight off” and “burn those extra calories.” I was done not eating sweets (harder for me not with varying blood sugar, but a topic for another day).
Also, I was done being told “Oh but you’re so thin, so you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want”; another common dialogue when frankly, hard to tell what’s going on in my head.
It’s just so ingrained that being thin is equivalent to being worthy.
But that’s not said out loud even, is it? What’s said is being ‘thin’ is considered being healthy, and being ‘healthy’ is ‘good’, and ‘good’ is worthy.
Whilst I’m grateful that there’s a strong movement towards both body neutrality and body positivity (whichever term you prefer to use), with respect to fitness and overall health, I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that this isn’t easy.
This is exhausting and hard and painful and it takes unlearning. Unlearning patterns we’ve grown up with. Unlearning what we see on social media. Unlearning as parents. Unlearning as individuals.
And at the end of it all, being kind to ourselves and others.
Because your weight isn’t automatically linked to your self-worth. If anything, it shouldn’t define your personality.
You are who you are, and that’s not based on your weight.