I was only twelve years old when I started my first diet. I weighed only seven and a half stone. It was for the school trip to France – we would we be swimming, so I wanted to look “nice” in a swimming costume. Already, there are too many issues with what I have recalled. At the tender age of twelve I wanted to look “nice” – what is “nice”? To me at that point in time, “nice” was skinny. “Nice” was to be the same as my slim friends. Of course, looking back at photos now and reflecting in general as a matured teenager, I realise just how deluded I was. Yes, the weight would have been more compressed on the smaller height of a twelve year old, but seven and a half stone is nothing alarming; it is a perfectly healthy weight. Why, at such a young age, was I already concerned about my appearance so much? The answer is boringly obvious. Society, the media – you know the drill. The pressures of being attractive and what society deems acceptable hit me hard. And unfortunately, it didn’t end at the France school trip.
I was only thirteen years old when I went on what I would say was my first “crash diet.” Again, at that time I weighed no more than eight and a half stone I’d say, but I had put on weight since the France trip, which had been four months earlier. During the France trip, my weight-obsessed mindset took a bit of a hike, and rebellion struck. It all started with ditching the bran cereal I had adopted as my breakfast meal, and instead splurging for the pain au chocolat. From that one moment on the trip, following on to the next four months, I completely ditched any previous ideas of a diet or healthy eating I had, spiralling completely downwards into the opposite direction. I over-ate constantly, and would always opt for the fattier, unhealthier option. This led to a considerable weight gain – over half a stone, in just under four months. Again, I began to feel unhappy with the way I looked, and with a friend’s birthday party coming up, I wanted to try and change that. The problem was though, my friend’s birthday party was a week away. How did I figure a way around this obstacle? Well, I decided that the less I ate, the more weight I’d lose. So with that in mind, I went on a diet that consisted of my breakfast in the morning and my tea in the evening only. That was it. I lived on two meals a day, for five days. Perhaps this doesn’t compare to other crash diets like the lettuce diet or the cabbage soup diet, but no crash diet, regardless of it’s extremity, is the right way to go. Ever. Again, I look back at photos of this occasion and realise I was delusional. Despite some weight gain, there was still nothing overly concerning about my weight, and it is certainly a worrying thought to think I cared so much that I stooped to the level of crash dieting.
I am sad to say it didn’t end there either though. For the the last four years, since those first encounters with dieting, my weight has widely fluctuated and my yo-yo dieting has been a constant. By 2013, I reached my heaviest weight of just under eleven stone – this new, unknown number on the scales gave me a reality check that I perhaps needed. I had never been that big in my life, and at only fourteen years old I felt ugly and unattractive. So yet again, I went on a diet… but guess what? This time, it actually worked. I had broken the cycle. With a motivated mindset and determined willpower I had never adopted before, I lost a stone and a half (twenty pounds) and I was the happiest I’d been in ages. For the first time in over a year, I could happily look at photos of myself, I could actually fit into my clothes easily, and I felt confident. I considered it to be my biggest achievement at that point in my life. This didn’t last though. I didn’t manage to maintain the weight loss, and overall I have regained around half of the original weight.
Today, I am still struggling. I consider myself to have very disordered eating patterns, with every diet I start usually lasting no longer than a fortnight before I fall off the wagon again and splurge on junk foods for the duration of the weekend. One thing I can say I have learned though, is how to eat a healthy diet in comparison to a crash diet. I now know that restriction is not the answer. I would also like to say that I have came to the realisation that I am more than my appearance, but in all honesty, I think I would be lying if I said such a thing. I know that the way somebody looks does not determine their worth, but I don’t think I have have understood to the full potential of accepting and loving myself beyond my appearance yet. I am stuck in a vicious cycle. I start a new diet; I lose a few pounds and life feels great; I have a little slip-up; it escalates into a period of binge-eating and I am just…stuck. This then repeats, and has been doing so for most of my teenage years so far.
At the moment, I am just at the end of one of my classic weekend food binges. I have been really ill with viral conjunctivitis, so that hasn’t helped either and by eating so horribly I have ultimately just made myself feel worse. I won’t go into an extensive list of all the foods I’ve been eating, but I think if I say that it’s a surprise I haven’t got diabetes or had a heart attack yet, you’ll get the picture. These unhealthy habits are dangerous though – the longer this pattern of eating continues, the more I am internally damaging my body. It is a risk to mental health also – when I reach this level, I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to leave the house, and frankly, I don’t even want to wake up. It truly is a dreadful cycle fuelled by self-hatred and an impossible longing for perfection.
I have written this post in the hope that it will help me – I have never really put my story of struggles with body image out like this before, and I feel like if just one person even takes a look, it means I am not alone, even if they do not comment, like or even remotely care about the post. It means that somebody knows. It is not a way of gaining attention or sympathy – this is simply a way for me to express my true feelings, and maybe connect with others. And in the case of other people who have suffered the same kind of problems, I want you to know that this post is a sign you’re not alone either.
I do not want to live the rest of my life this way, and I do not want to look back and regret all the time I spent obsessing over my weight. My life is worth more than that, and so is yours. Tomorrow is a new day. A fresh start. Another chance to find happiness. But first, we need to accept that happiness can’t be reached when we are stuck in denial and isolation about the very problems holding us back. So this post is me, accepting and sharing my problem. This is my decision, to not let body image control my life. I am stronger than that. It’s my mind that needs to change, not my body. I won’t be happy when I reach a certain number on the scale. I will be happy when I learn to love myself.