I used to hate myself and my body. Over time I lost the weight. But it took me much longer to lose the mindset of self loathing.
Here I share my story – to give you insight and tips for why you may have gained weight and how you can love away the self hatred and the diets too.
Meet Fat, Self-Hating Shona
I recently stumbled across my old diaries.
As I read the words that my younger self wrote I’m taken back in time – 16 years back. Will you travel back in time with me to meet Shona in 1998?
To help set the scene…
Cher had the best selling single ‘Believe’,
Titanic was the blockbuster movie of the year,
Tony Blair is Prime Minister having won a landslide election the previous year,
And I’m no longer the bright, bubbly, confident 39-year-old I am today, but a mere 22 years young.
I’m working as a nurse, living in a shared flat in London.
My current longish red hair is chopped into a very short, brown and unflattering crew cut.
My present size 10 figure is somewhat inflated and covered up in a large size nurse’s tunic.
My face is plumper with the suggestion of an extra chin.
I’m wearing clothes that hide rather than flatter my curvy figure. The upright posture that I’ve grown into through increased confidence and weight training has gone. I slouched forward, rounding my shoulders as I try to hide from the world.
It’s a very lonely and sad time for me.
I believe I’m weak, lazy, fat and unattractive. Cruel, cutting, uncompassionate words yet this is how I describe myself in my diary. I’d never dream of speaking to someone else this way – yet I apply a different standard to myself.
The familiar feelings emerge: alienation from my body, anxiety at meeting others, self disgust, suffocating shyness, desperate to fit in – or to disappear.
And I’m doing what I believe to be the best solution – I start my second diet – as that will fix everything, right?
I sign up for Weight Watchers (Rosemary Connelly the Flat Stomach Plan was my first, aged 20).
I try to deal with my body size but my self hatred doesn’t go anywhere.
I’m working full time.
I’m not massively overweight.
But yet my mind is SCREAMING these beliefs at me. I’m a lost young girl with low self esteem trying to find her way in the world. I have no insight into this and no self compassion.
Why was I overweight and dowdy – was it mind-set? Behaviour?
How did I get into that head and body space that I describe above?
During my teens I’d been able to eat what I liked and was pretty active.
I left home aged 17 and moved into nurse’s accommodation as I began my nurse training.
As I was naturally skinny and previously quite a picky eater – I’d never given my food choices a second thought.
I was very shy and struggled with the social side of being a student. I felt awkward and didn’t enjoy the course or the nursing placements.
Life away from home meant I made some new ‘culinary’ discoveries:
Nutella on toast – I can still remember spreading it on the toasted bread, the smell of the toast and the sweetness of the chocolate. I had very little awareness of calories and fat content so I ate this most evenings as a snack after dinner.
Evening sweetie runs to corner shop – In addition my housemate and I would treat ourselves each night – we’d go to the corner shop and come back with a pack of Revels each, or Dairy Milk, a can of Coke etc. After a long hard day, we all deserve a ‘treat’, right?
Alcohol – As I was really shy alcohol seemed an easy way to relax and appear to be more fun to everyone else. One of my closest friends was from Shetland so she soon educated me in the way of vodka – I hadn’t drunk very much before so had the capacity of small child!
Tea break scones – At college break time I’d have a scone, butter and jam. Everyone else was eating these things – it was normal! I didn’t see a problem.
But the unhappier I became the more I was using food as a source of comfort – a way of feeling temporal warmth to escape all the bad feelings.
I’m only 5ft 3½” so I don’t actually need very much food – particularly as at that time I wasn’t doing any formal exercise. Clearly I was eating more calories than my body needed. This was quite easy for me to do as a lot of the foods I have listed as very calorie dense yet nutritionally light. Initially my weight gain came through a lack of nutritional awareness and from finding food a comfort.
I honestly don’t know why I had such low self esteem and self confidence. Nothing bad happened to me as a child – on the contrary – I was brought up by kind, loving parents. We are all quite shy as a family so maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for the shock of everyday life on my own?
We had quite a strict religious upbringing and looking back I feel I had a core belief that I was inherently bad and had to earn my self worth.
My unhappiness and self loathing led me to over eat and to stay overweight.
The effect of diets on me
When my weight began to creep up I didn’t notice at first.
Then I’d see photos of myself and feel disguisted – I didn’t recognise the fat girl I saw looking back at me so I started my first diet.
Food was no longer a guilt free thing – it was something that could be ‘bad’, ‘fattening’, ‘calorific’ and food ‘rules’ were in abundance.
Over the next few years’ diets worked and then didn’t work anymore – meanwhile they slowly chipped away at my relationship with food and my body. They led to binging eating behaviour which I am going to blog about soon.
Due to both starting dieting and working shifts I started to develop a mindset of deprivation towards food. A mind set that leads to thinking like:
“I better eat now while on break as I don’t know when I will get a chance again”.
After eating when not hungry on a nursing shift tea break I’d go back to the ward floor where temptations were everywhere:
– the smell of warm toast with melted butter when I’d serve patients their breakfast,
– the scent of sickly sweet sugar from the hot chocolates from the Clinks machine,
– the numerous boxes and tins of chocolates that patients and family ‘kindly’ gifted us.
I had completely lost touch with my hunger signals and food was something I ate when I got the chance.
Meet Slim Shona – who feels she is fat
Flip forward to my early 30s.
My short hair has grown into a bob.
I’m about a size 10.
I run marathons and try to eat ‘clean’ low calorie.
I’m receiving counselling…
I’m sitting on the cream IKEA chair dressed in my Lycra running gear. The windows are draped with curtains that flow from the ceiling to the floor. The sun fills the room and I feel its warmth as it shines on my face. It feels safe here.
I’ve run to the appointment. I generally run everywhere as an easy means of transport in London and it keeps me fit.
I’ve entered this beautiful calm space with my head bursting with pain and angst.
I’m tell my counsellor that it’s my fault that my relationship hasn’t worked out:
“I should have been more patient, more understanding of his problems. And look at me. I look awful… who would want to be with this?”
I slump in the seat as I gesture to my body.
My counsellor physically recoils.
I hadn’t noticed the harshness of my words. The self judgement and tone I was using.
He looks at me with such love and care as he helps me to hear the cruelty of my own internal voice.
I was slim and made an effort with my appearance but in my head I was still fat, self-hating Shona.
I gradually realised that although I look okay to the world – inside is still a lost overweight young girl who doesn’t love herself or her body.
Overtime he helped me see a very different Shona who is beautiful inside and out. At times I still lose sight of her and see myself with harsh eyes but thankfully this is less and less.
Habits, exercise, good nutrition – all good but start from the inside
Now through years of life experience, self development and the love of family and friends I accept and love who I am.
I’m still very much a work in progress (as we all are) but I am both kinder to myself and more comfortable in my body. I can laugh at myself and try not to take myself too seriously.
In my work as a weight loss coach I meet many women who think and speak about themselves the way I used to.
They speak about themselves in a way that they would never speak about someone they care about.
Does that ring true for you?
We can judge ourselves and think that our value comes from looking a certain way, from meeting certain dietary or exercise conditions that we put on ourselves.
It takes time and hard work but it is possible to move from a place of self loathing to a place of being okay with yourself, from being OK with yourself to LOVING yourself, sometimes you just need a little guidance to get there.
For me this is where real transformation comes from. When we have the inside right the outside usually follows – not the other way round.
I help women with getting good habits in place – exercise, eating less or better, sleep, drinking water – and it all helps.
But the most important thing I do is to try and help you see that you are amazing right now.
Like me you may need some help on this journey.
I offer one-to-one online coaching to help you with your relationship with food and your body. If you live in the Highlands I also offer a hybrid of online coaching plus once monthly personal training to check your exercise form.
My aim is for you to feel beautiful in your own skin and for healthy habits to become behaviors you do automatically without thinking about them.
I am absolutely passionate about this work and would love to work with you.
Tell me about yourself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’re not quite ready to speak to someone just yet, why not have a browse through my blog.
What have you got to lose? An email costs nothing to send and could the start of a life-changing journey.