Slightly different tack today. This is an article that I wrote a year or so ago and which I sent to woman’s Hour in February which resulted in my discussing the very personal issue of my weight live on radio. (14th February if you fancy a listen on BBC iPlayer if its still there )
I’m a fat lady. I’m not cuddly, big boned, a bit on the large side, bonnie, plump or any other of the twee euphemisms – I’m fat – obese. I’m the sort of fat that people do television programmes about how much fat people eat and we all stretch our eyes and are astounded that they can eat three lots of fish and chips in one sitting and that they drink four two litre bottles of coke a day or takeaways every night of the week or 195 bags of crisps a week. Except I don’t. Don’t eat 195 bags of crisps a week – don’t do any of the things I have just listed actually. I guess then I must be lazy. Never move off the couch, never do any exercise, never really do anything except waddle to the fridge and eat a cream cake. Nope that’s not me either. I suppose my whole family must be fat – children, husband, dog, cat… everyone. Nope ‘fraid not that either. I have three grown up boys – two positively skinny ones and one slighter bigger built but by no means fat, – and I have two little ones aged 2 and 4 who are just as they should be – not skinny and not overweight. I have a lovely husband who is a bit younger than me but he isn’t fat either… well, he could maybe do with losing a stone or two but I mean he isn’t FAT – not like me. I’m 5’3 and weigh around 20 stone. I wear a size 26 clothes and I don’t have a coat that stays buttoned just now. Although I have an underactive thyroid gland for which I take thyroxine I have always been pretty healthy. I have been fat for almost as long as I can remember although I wasn’t a fat child and my parents are not fat either. In fact my mother is probably 8 stones wet through… and 76… and never stops. But I can remember being a size 16 at 16, When I married my first husband I was a size 20ish and its gradually crept up over the last twenty five years.
I cook, that’s what I do. A stay at home mum, I do voluntary work for a few organisations but really what I do is cook. Friends with broken hearts get food, friends with broken bones get food. Come round to our house and expect to be asked to stay for dinner. Need a recipe for something? I have one; Cant cook? I can give you tips; Need to feed a family on a budget? I’m the queen of that. Intimate dinner for two – yep; family meals yep; Christmas dinner for 4? 6? 15? Yep that’s me too. Throw a Burns Party for 70 people and cook haggis neeps and tatties – did that last weekend. I don’t buy ready meals, I cook from scratch – most things except bread. Fruit and veg, salad, all play a part in my family meals and I work hard to provide healthy, tasty food for my family. We don’t have a fryer or a microwave. I make jam and chutney and I occasionally bake biscuits and cakes. I’m good at cooking. I’m a happy fatty, I am loved by my family and my friends. I do stuff, have hobbies, do voluntary work, look after my babies and I’m happy. Or am I?
Recently I had coffee with a friend of mine. A lovely friend, we have known each other for 15 years or so. We have been through divorce, one night stands and remarriage, alcoholic and controlling men friends, children’s traumas and most other things. I hadn’t seen her in a while though – she works, I don’t and I have toddlers which she doesn’t. She has lost three stone in weight by doing a popular food replacement diet. She looked great and she had a cup of coffee and a diet bar thing whilst I had a melting cheese feast toastie and coffee. I was less than gracious about her decision to do this diet programme and I sceptically raised my eyebrows as she talked tentatively about the programme. I pinched my lips at the cost and I raised my eyebrows at the thought that the counselling was any good. I spat out the words “Yes, you look really good” and I came home in such a bad mood that when my husband asked did I have a good time, I said no. The real truth is that I was jealous -straightforwardly, unambiguously jealous. It took me two whole days to admit that to myself and a bit longer to share it with my husband. I haven’t told my friend yet. Now, jealousy is not a feeling I have very often, I rarely feel jealous about anything. In fact, I think the last time I felt its true grip was when a friend told me she was pregnant just after I had miscarried in 2006. I am not very comfortable with the feeling of jealousy but I have to accept that if I am jealous of my friend’s slimming success then I can’t be so happy being a fatty after all.
Truth is, I haven’t been happy with my weight for a while. I was able to avoid the issue completely from 2007 to 2010. In a new relationship with a man who doesn’t care one iota that I’m on the large size, I was busy being pregnant and having babies. My pregnancies were fine, no complications, nothing out of the ordinary despite the fact that I was both old and fat as I was having the babies at 43 and 45 years old. Whilst I’m pregnant I don’t put any weight on at all, this was the case with my older boys who are now 22, 21 and 16. I sort of just change shape. I didn’t worry about being fat. The midwives looked after me marvellously and there was never any judgement made or any sniping at my weight. So I was pretty much able to ignore the fat thing completely. I got married had babies and felt fantastic. Only when I saw a photograph did I mentally flinch and as I’m very, very skilled at avoiding cameras I was able to continue in my happy fatty mode. The last year has seen this happiness slide somewhat. Following the birth of my last baby, I had to have my appendix out. My recovery was slow. A mild but persistent infection meant weeks of visits to the nurses at the Doctors surgery, Following this my energy levels were shocking and culminated in tears at Christmas last year when I could hardly manage to walk around our local (small) shopping centre. I could no longer believe that this tiredness was simply the babies and so I saw my GP. At the start of 2011 I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and got myself a very pretty machine with a very fetching face mask (NOT) to wear at night. It worked, my energy levels have massively improved and I’m a million times better but it was clear – The need to lose weight was staring me in the face. I have ignored it the whole year, well actually I did do something about it and joined a slimming class to which I went for a month lost a stone and stopped going. And there is the problem or the question, or the nub of the matter if you like…what am I going to do about it?
Over the last thirty years I have been to slimming classes galore, I have tried the F-plan, The cabbage diet, the Atkins Diet, the starve yourself diet. I have calorie counted, I have joined Gyms, I have done online diets and I have done total food replacement diets. I have steeled myself to excercise more, to eat less and to be slim for countless christmases, birthdays, holidays, weddings (including two of my own!!!!) and parties. I have completely failed at everything I have tried. I can’t bear the thought of another trip to a class, another humiliating sweaty session at some trendy gym where the fat lady tries to fade into the background – that’s me by the way. And yet if I am truly honest, I can’t bear the thought of another Christmas do in some fat lady’s dress, or shopping for another wedding outfit, or trying on another coat to find it doesn’t fit. These days I am starting to be surprised when I find something that looks ok. Note, that I didn’t say looks good, or looks fabulous, or sexy, I said ok. That’s as good as it gets, I look ok.
The real thing that I can’t bear to think about though is what my wee girl is going to think about her mum if I don’t do something about this. I have four boys and my last baby is a little girl. The boys don’t care, their friends have loved me… I feed them!!!! The boys just see their mum and don’t bat an eyelid but my baby girl….How is she going to feel about me when she not only has to deal with the “your mum is really OLD” but also has the “your mum is really FAT” comments to deal with. How am I going to take her shopping for clothes when I look like a blimp? How can we go to see the ballet when I might not be able to squeeze into the theatre seats? Never mind the thought of tripping off on a girlie weekend on a plane – imagine the fold down trays that won’t fold and the extender belt for the seat. So I have to do something but what. I can’t afford the pricey food replacement diet that my friend is doing and nor would I want that, food is part of my life and who we are, we sit at the table to eat, friends come round and I feed them, I don’t want to be sitting there drinking some crappy shake. I want to keep that part of my life, but I have to change it. And besides, I can almost feed my entire family for the £300 it would cost for a month of shakes and nutrition bars. I have looked at personal trainers who offer nutritional advice and they are affordable – just – but they all seem to be about 14 years old. So I have to make a decision… I have to try something and stick at it. It has to work for me, my mad chaotic family life, my social life and my pocket. How do I choose? How can I find something which will make me a success at dieting and which will allow me to be happy and healthy? I can see fifty peeking over the horizon and a teenage daughter who wants me to drop her off round the corner because she is embarrassed of me. Happy fatty? maybe not after all.