I am on a diet right now. I say that, but I am on a diet about 50% of my life. The other 50% of my life sees me scoffing pints of Haagen Dazs, demolishing chocolate like there’s no tomorrow and drinking white wine with gusto. This is because, when it comes to food, I have a split personality. There is Binge-girl and there is Purge-girl (when I say ‘purge’ I don’t mean in terms of bulimia or throwing up, just being very restrictive of my diet).
Binge-girl LOVES food – any food. Although, truth be told, the tastier and unhealthier the better: chocolate, cheese and ice-cream are staples. She eats to celebrate, to comfort herself, to ease boredom. She eats when she’s happy, when she’s sad, mad or tired. She eats when working, when slobbing out and when travelling. She loves cooking and even grocery shopping – this is her Mecca, her place of choosing the best of the best to tingle her taste buds with. She cooks more than her husband – purely because she likes the control, the process of turning raw ingredients into something new and palatable. She judges social occasions by the amount and quality of food on offer and gets worked up if she’s out drinking and there hasn’t been an opportunity to eat. She gets moody when she hasn’t eaten in a while (sugar crash, anyone?) and therefore stock-piles treats to attack when the need arises. She puts on weight easily but tells herself that she likes her body curvy, her breasts full and her hips wide. She tells herself that she is sexier than any size zero moron, and happier too, because she can eat full meals and indulge her gastronomic desires. Plus, isn’t sexiness in the brain anyway? She tells herself that as a feminist she should refuse all the bullshit that media feeds her – that being sexy is being thin, tanned, with pneumatic lips and tits. She tells herself that such beauty is fake, and unoriginal and unappealing. She tells herself that it’s wrong to compare her body to that of others – that it is unrealistic and also destructive. She fluctuates from feeling like a voluptuous goddess, to feeling like a fat, self-conscious freak who can’t find anything to wear that fits and hides the blubber. She thinks about food all the time.
Purge-girl also loves food, but only allows herself to eat a small amount of ‘acceptable’ sustenance. Chocolate, cheese and ice-cream are not on the list. She drinks fruit smoothies for breakfast, soup or rye bread for lunch and has carb-free suppers. She drinks gin and diet tonic when she’s out, with lots of lemon. She exercises regularly and drinks litres of water. She weighs herself daily, rejoicing in losses and beating herself up over small gains. She writes down what she eats and how much she weighs. Physically she feels good – she has good skin, lots of energy and fewer sugar crashes. She’s also hungry. She feels good on the inside too – righteous, cleansed. She loses weight quickly – almost as fast as Binge-girl can put it on. But sometimes she gets frustrated by the lack of cheese, of potatoes, of refined sugar, in her life. She takes her frustration out on her nearest and dearest, who are perplexed (weren’t you Binge-girl just yesterday? who are you today?). Sometimes, too, she is too hungry, too deprived – she feels faint, she feels nauseous, she blacks out in the mornings at rare intervals. She is never quite happy with how she looks – her thighs are still too round, her bingo arms too pronounced – and her boobs are now deflating alongside her calorie allowance. People comment on how good she’s looking, how good she’s looking now she’s thin. She laps this up. She knows she shouldn’t ascribe to the beauty ideals of the western world – but how can you not? She compares herself endlessly to other women – women on TV, women on the street, women who are her friends. She is encouraged by curvier examples (Christina Hendricks, Lily Allen, Beyonce, Crystal Renn) and jealous – almost bitterly so – when surveying their skinnier cousins, but uses this envy to spur her on. She swings from feeling determined and thin to feeling deprived and miserable. She thinks about food all the time.
I am an all or nothing type of person – I’m either full on Binge-girl or full on Purge-girl. I know it’s not healthy – not physically (my poor, confused metabolism!) and certainly not psychologically (rereading this I realise how psychologically unhealthy it actually is, when you see it in black and white). It’s not fair on the people who love me and never know which food-freak is going to pop up when. I need to work towards a more holistic, more happy, more healthy approach to food, but I’m not quite sure how.