Last September I was hospitalised for an obstructed bowel. Unfortunately, this is something that happens more regularly than I’d like and is a direct result of having one too many abdominal surgeries. I'm told it will continue happening. I'm told it's not my fault. I'm told there is nothing I can do to prevent it. And despite that, I am constantly told to not eat red meat, to not eat raw fish, to not eat X, Y, Z by family and friends in an aid to advise me how to prevent the next - totally inevitable - obstructed bowel. Let me be clear, there is no scientific evidence to support the fact that I should cut out any food group or that there is any link from a specific food to obstructed bowels. But there is, however, a direct link between abdominal surgeries and obstructed bowels. And I’ve had plenty of those. So why all the unsolicited medical advice?
Well, it’s because I am fat. I am a size 20 and therefore in some way, somehow, it must be my fault.
Shortly after this hospitalisation, I found I struggled to return back to the gym and when I did, a whole 24 hours after the recommended wait time, something really scary started happening. Every time I went to lift weights - which I normally do 3 times a week - my vision would disappear. The last time this happened, I had a brain tumour so quite understandably, I panicked. I panicked enough to hire a personal trainer to supervise me, but not enough to see a doctor. Despite how irrational that is, given my history, it's understandable to want to avoid a doctor. Plus, in my head, I thought it would pass, and in the mean time, I didn't want to drop a weight on my foot.
It was the first time I’d had a personal trainer since I was 15 and more importantly, it was the first time I had had a personal trainer since discovering body positivity. I went into the first session and clearly stated why I was there and that I was specifically not there for weight loss and I didn't want to talk about my diet.
Cue the third session: ‘I know you said you didn't want to talk about your diet, but I have a strong feeling that your loss of vision might actually be due to your eating…’ I braced myself for the inevitable, ‘you eat too much’ spiel about how my physical symptoms are my fault.
‘I don't think you are eating enough.’
What followed was the most interesting conversation I have ever had. I ended up tracking my food for a week, and when I showed the diary to him, it was confirmed: I don't eat enough.
When I get busy, I forget to eat. When I get stressed, I forget to eat. I don't like breakfast, never have and so if I have a meeting near or around lunch, the first time I could be putting food in my mouth is usually 4pm. It's usually a large meal and it's usually my only meal of the day because I'm too full for dinner.
What's worse is if I'm with people. I'm a really slow eater and a really big talker so the combination of both of those things leads to me rarely getting a chance to finish my meal, unless I'm with a good friend who has the patience to wait.
For the next week, this PT, now knowing my full history and relationship with food decided the best plan was to just make two simple rules. Eat some form of meat - I had gone vegan earlier in the year and in many ways still stuck to it - and some source of carbohydrate at every meal. And when I resisted he simply said, ‘try it for one week only, what's the harm?’. So I did.
That week I had more energy than I had in a while and my blackouts at the gym stopped. I was a fat girl who wasn't eating enough! What's even more shocking is in that week, I lost weight. I don't weigh myself anymore and neither weight gain or weight loss bothers or affects me. But if my body’s reaction was weight loss rather than weight gain, this, beyond my PT’s advice, indicated to me that I wasn't eating enough.
It's now almost a year on. I won't lie and say I never forget to eat. Last week, when all that racist shit was going on over at Body Positive Memes, it took me until 4.30pm to realise I hadn't eaten yet. That and Dana from Do The Hot Pants texting me ‘GO EAT SOMETHING NOW’, to finally get around to it. But on the whole, for the most part, it is a priority now.
This is the problem. When you've had a long history of dieting, you often have lost touch with your hunger cues. For me, the reason I forget to eat is because I only remember when I get a headache. I literally do not clock my hunger cues until it is passed the point of hunger, and it's unsurprising given that I spent 20 years of my life trying to override them.
So now, yes, I may have to force myself to remember by setting phone reminders to check in on my hunger, by scheduling in my diary times to eat and sometimes by forcing myself to eat something 3 times a day, even when I'm not hungry. So if you are relearning how to listen to your hunger cues, these tricks worked for me. And don't worry about being a "failure" at intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is the end goal but first, we need to undo a lifetime of not listening to our bodies. It’s really easy to say ‘listen to your body’, but it’s harder to actually teach yourself how. This is my how.