Just a quick content warning: this post discusses negative body image, depression and an unhealthy relationship with food.
My relationship with food is by no means perfect. There isn’t much I love more than putting effort into a meal and then getting to reap the tasty rewards. But I know that I eat too much. I also know that I use food as a comfort. Food is my reward for doing well but is also my coping mechanism when things are bad. I get a takeaway for example to celebrate a good grade, but I’d also get a takeaway to treat myself after a bad day. I’ll never forget the day I had an argument with a boy I was seeing and I ran home, tore open a frozen pizza and once cooked I stress-devoured it at the speed of light. When I’d finished, panting in the crumbs, he rang me and we sorted everything out. But I’d still eaten that pizza in what felt like 30 seconds flat, as my go to method to calm myself down. On the other end of the spectrum, I can remember skipping meals so the first boy in my life would want to see me with my top off. So, while I love food now, that has not always been the case.
A young Anna with my 2 mains foods: rice cakes and cherry tomatoes
Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life, and on top of that a fussy eater for about three quarters of it. This means eating a lot of carb based simple meals like cheesy pasta, cheesy noodles, pizza, cheesy rice… Can you spot the trend? An easy trap for the vegetarian fussy-eater to fall in to is to add a mountain of cheese to everything to give it more flavour. I like to think this is something I’ve grown out of in the past few years, and I’m attempting to ditch the cheese in aid of fresh chillies and spices. I still remember the day I ‘discovered’ black pepper. Revolutionary.
My family often tried to push me to eat better out of love, but this just frustrated me even more. At the time, my attitude was simple: “If I don’t like something, I’m not going to eat it.” This attitude hasn’t changed now I’m older; but my taste buds have. This means my diet has widened considerably which in ways has allowed me to eat more healthy meals. I was very afraid of exotic anything, going from mildly spicy food to the horror that is purple carrots. If I decided I wasn’t going to like something, that was it. People would tell me, poorly hiding their exasperation, to “just try it, please.” But until I got older and my taste buds matured, nothing was going to change. My meals were high fat and low in fibre, vitamins, and while I didn’t know it, flavour.
I don’t think I was fat then. I’m not sure it was a problem in weight in my early to mid-teens so much as not getting the nutrition I needed. *Just as a disclaimer now, I might use words like fat/chubby and so on in this writing, but I don’t use them negatively. To me these sorts of words have become more descriptive, like other adjectives. Fat isn’t really a negative word to me anymore, and chubby is just cute as heck.* I wasn’t getting the right nutrients as a vegetarian, as a teenage girl with heavy periods and low iron, or as a growing girl lacking protein. But I didn’t really see this as a huge problem. The older I got, the better I got at eating. I broadened my palette and didn’t have an internal freak-out when the beans were touching the chips. But that’s not where my mental quirks around food vanished.
Me at around age fifteen, before the prom diet catastrophe
Fast-forward a few years to me being sixteen. I was only just hitting puberty, I’d never had a boyfriend and nobody had ever seen me naked. My mum had made some comments on my appearance and weight over the past few years. I don’t have any ill will towards her about this anymore. I understand in her mind she was just trying to do what she thought was best for me, and make sure I didn’t let my eating get too out of hand. When you have your own issues with size and food, it’s very easy to accidentally comment on other people’s diets and weight. I’ve done this myself with my sister, something I’ve felt guilty and ashamed of every time. But that wasn’t the main issue. I was reaching the end of year eleven in school, and prom was on the horizon. I heard a lot of the girls around school talking about prom diets. They wanted to look at their best in the pictures, didn’t want to bulge in the dress, wanted to look skinnier on the night we’d remember for the rest of our lives.
I’m the third from the left, the midget in heels who thought her arms looked SO FAT in this prom pic
This mentality managed to leak its way into my brain. I started to eat a little less, and make myself feel REALLY BAD for eating unhealthy food, even though I’d do it anyway and torture myself after. I’d like to clarify now I was nowhere near eating disorder territory, and this whole shabang I’m about to go into only lasted about six months.
So, I was eating a bit less to look good for prom. Spoiler alert: I did look good. I was potentially at my smallest at that age, with photos I’d look back on dreaming to be that slim again. The night itself, cheesy though it sounds, is a memory I still treasure four years later. I got ready with my best friend, took about a million photos and the majority of the school learned that yes, I do put on makeup sometimes. The night ended with an after party at the house of the boy I fancied. I had my first kiss that night, thus beginning my first love. This beginning meant the delayed end of my “prom diet.” I got more into it and ate less for one reason: the boy. My basic mentality was simple: if he took my top off, I didn’t want to bulge over my jeans. I honestly don’t give a fuck about this now at the bulgy peak of my life so far, and looking back it seems ridiculous that I cared so much. But my basic logic was if I was going to his house in the afternoon, if I didn’t eat breakfast or had a very small lunch, if anything, my tummy would be flatter if he took my top off. He was my first kiss, my first boyfriend, and the first person to see me naked.
It wasn’t the boy who put these expectations on me. On the contrary, it was my low self-esteem at the time that lead him to brutally dump me for being Too Sad, just four months into our budding romance. But in the brief time we were together, from what I can remember he did his best to make me feel good about myself. But I was determined to be miserable. I would fish for compliments that I’d refuse. I’d suck my stomach in and plaster on a smile. I would eat tea at his house which turned out to nearly always be falafel because his mum had no idea what else to make for a vegetarian.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental health had been on a steady decline for quite a while. This fleeting relationship was a pivotal four months in my mental health journey: the day after being broken up with for being too sad and insecure, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression by my GP. A few months later I started what ended up being just over a year and a half of therapy. The diet got lost somewhere in that time, as therapy taught me to be more confident and eventually lead me to love myself. I was still pretty skinny, but eating more and gaining weight. I had a lot to deal with at this time, ranging from a mum with terminal cancer, a sister recovering from a breakdown, a new boyfriend who was the human equivalent of a very abusive pile of rubbish, as well as the realization I was mentally unwell. Food wasn’t really the root of my mental problems, but it had slowly started becoming the solution. I was old enough that I had my own money and my parents couldn’t control my diet anymore. Junk food very gradually went from a luxury, to a guilty treat, to a routine. I’d never eaten amazingly healthy, which only escalated. I comfort ate through my problems throughout sixth form, but never really saw it as a problem until I was around eighteen. I look back at pictures from then now, thinking that was the time I thought I was fat, and cared far more than I do now about it, being two or three sizes bigger.
Me and some lovely pals camping the summer of my first toe dipping into body confidence and showing more skin
By the end of school, I’d reached another relationship ending. Getting out of a toxic relationship in which the boy DID put me down often, and limited me in a lot of ways, was very liberating. I gave myself my first real wave of body confidence and positivity, despite being single and bigger. After one of the best summers of my life, I moved to university in Salford and everything fell apart. My mum died that first October after fighting back the cancer she was diagnosed with when I was about twelve. This was a huge hit to me and my whole family, and going back to uni to people I barely knew just two weeks later so I could hand in my second ever assignment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Through grief and through having a lot more money than I was used to, I found a home in food. Parts of this were good and parts were bad. I learned how to really cook healthy and flavourful meals, and I also learned that you can buy a lot of tortilla chips and salsa from Aldi for a fiver. Just finishing second year, I am a size fourteen. I’ve grown out of a lot of my clothes. My body is dotted with stretch marks in places I didn’t know you could get them, like the tops of my arms. My thighs have expanded into cellulite, which I didn’t even know was a thing until recently. After discovering what it was I realised that I have it, and its apparently something to be ashamed of. I’m not ashamed. I have cute little tummy rolls. I have wide and god damn sexy hips. I have pretty decent boobs which didn’t come in until the extra weight did. But most of all, I have a forever redefined confidence and absolute love for my body.
Me, the shorty on the left, rocking my beaut bikini bod last summer
I am bigger than I’ve ever been, and I’ve never loved myself more than I do now. Somehow, I’ve found it far easier to love my body than when I was a size 8 at 16. I eat food and I enjoy it. I would like to get a handle on my snacking, but my meals are all healthy, packed full of veggies, and vegan around 70% of the time. I don’t buy cheese or really any dairy other than pizzas and the non-vegan Quorn, except for a few chocolatey or cheesy slip ups. I go to the gym on a semi regular basis. I try to walk places if I’m not running late. I have a tummy, but I have confidence. I have stretch marks, but I walk taller, and I’m not afraid to wear a bikini and admit I look damn good in it. Not to mention that I actually believe it. There are still the days when my tights wear through a pair of jeans, or I realize what used to be my favourite dress doesn’t quite fit anymore. But luckily for me I have a decent amount of student loan and I bloody love buying clothes. I am not ashamed of how I look: it is a part of me. Some people in the world would consider me as humongous, to others I’m probably pretty slim. The greatest thing I ever learnt was that the average size for a UK woman is a 16. The girls you went to school with are not a cross section of society.
Not the most flattering picture in the world but one of the most recent full body ones I have, and looking happier than I’ve ever been with my babe Kate
Getting fatter was such a terrifying thing to me, and now it’s happened I can claim it in a way I never thought I could. I never thought there would be a time when I could very happily say I love my body, and mean it. To sum up, I’d much rather be a bit chubby and love myself, than a size 8 and starving. Some people can healthily maintain this size, but it seems that I can’t. I would like to say to all the women from size four to size forty that we will all find our own beautiful eventually. Mine hasn’t come from meeting society’s standards, or from a boy. The best thing you can do it find it in yourself, and try and rock however you look as much as you can. Do I have some days where I’d rather go back to a 12 or a 10? Yes, I do. There’s no point at sugar coating that. But the vast majority of my mornings are spent looking at myself in the mirror in a sick bodycon outfit, a new bikini or even in the nuddy, and absolutely loving what I see.
A lot of these photos are terrible quality and far too small, but I’m writing this at 1am in the spur of the moment and don’t have photoshop on my home laptop to resize. I also need to post this before I chicken out. I’ll get professional one day. Thanks for reading!