I was working on a building site for a few weeks. It was awesome but exhausting. The minute I hit the site each day, someone wanted my attention, something fixed, a problem solved, more information. I would have three and four people waiting for me to be available to help them at times, people interrupting my train of thought, stopping me mid-task, dragging me off to something else so that the task that was at the front of my brain fluttered away from my attention like a half read newspaper on a windy day. Tempers were short, folks were tired and stressed.
Don’t get me wrong, I was loving it. I was learning so much every day, working with a new type of colleague, having to think on my feet and problem solve. I was feeling challenged and stimulated.
But one cannot main that kind of intensity. And things started to slip. Firstly I was finding myself too tired to come home and follow my yoga DVD, a regular ritual of stretching my body and guiding myself into relaxation. Then I wasn’t eating properly. I grabbed a coffee as I rushed on to site. I didn’t take breaks. Lunch didn’t roll around until 2pm, 3pm. I was too exhausted to cook at night. And soon weekends disappeared into two days of sheer exhausted collapse, trying desperately to catch up on sleep and recharge enough for the next week.
Rationally I knew this wasn’t a good thing, but I kept telling myself “Just get the job done. Just get everything over the line for the deadline, and then you’ll be able to go back to the routines and strategies you use to keep yourself strong and balanced, physically, emotionally and mentally.”
But my body, and my brain, didn’t want to let this happen. It threw itself into disaster mode, because that’s what it thought was happening.
The critical moment came one day late in the job, a few days before deadline. I realised at about 1.30pm I was really hungry and just wasn’t getting anything done. So I slipped out to go and find a quiet spot to have lunch. There was a nice little carvery cafe, so I ordered my lunch, a steak sandwich with the works (steak, lettuce, beetroot, onion, pineapple, tomato, cheese, bacon and egg with a few chips on the side) knowing that I hadn’t eaten anything of substance for a few days, and who knows when the next real meal was in this crazy schedule.
Just before they brought my food over, and I was just sitting there reading tweets on my phone when one of my colleagues spotted me and sat down with his lunch. I didn’t mind at all, we didn’t talk much, just sat quietly and kind of did our own thing.
As my lunch arrived, another one of the guys I was working with on the project spotted us, and came and asked if he could join us. The answer was “Of course!” I really liked this guy, he’s great to work with and has a great sense of humour. I was more than happy to have him join us for lunch. He sat down and we talked about nothing much in particular, savouring a little time to not talk shop, just have a laugh and chat.
After about 10 minutes, it hit me. I wasn’t eating my lunch. I was pushing it about my plate, occasionally eating a chip, picking at the sandwich, just not actually eating the damn thing. You have to remember, I was really hungry, and this was a damn good meal, tasty and with lots of variety. I wanted to eat it, I really did. But I couldn’t bring myself to either pick up a piece of the sandwich (it was cut into quarter triangles) or even use the cutlery provided and cut a piece off and bring it to my mouth. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t.
I started to feel self conscious. I started to lose thread of the conversation, because I was thinking “Why am I not eating this? I want it. Just pick it up and eat it.” Soon the project colleague had clearly noticed that I wasn’t eating my lunch. I could tell he was trying to be polite and not pay attention to the fact that I was pushing my now cold lunch about my plate, almost entirely there, except for a few small bites. I tried to pick some of it up to eat it, but simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. This went on for almost 45 minutes. Eventually the guys said something about going off to the shops before they had to go back to work and left me.
And then I was faced with a stone cold lunch that was edible but not exactly tasty, feeling hungry, but more tellingly, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
The real irony is that neither of the dudes I was sitting with would have given a fuck if I had picked up that sandwich and chowed on down. In fact, they’d never have noticed… it was my NOT eating it that drew attention.
What the hell is wrong with me? I’m 38 years old. I’ve been doing this fat acceptance stuff for a couple of years now. I’ve been in therapy for self esteem and eating disorder issues for 5 years. Why does shit like this still happen?
Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I know why shit like this happens. It happens because I am STILL in recovery from a lifelong eating disorder. It happens because when I’m tired and stressed, the tiny voice inside my head that says that fat women shouldn’t be seen eating, that women should take dainty little bites, that a steak sandwich with a few chips on the side was “too big a meal” for me to be eating.
Because no matter how far down the fat acceptance road I get, I still hear what is said, I still see what is written, about women and food and fat. No matter how hard I work on my self esteem, on recovering from that lifelong eating disorder, on learning to be an intuitive eater, I will always carry the old burdens with me through my life.
But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at fat acceptance. It doesn’t mean that I’m permanently broken. It doesn’t mean that my life will always be ruled by those factors.
It actually means that those things, the low self esteem, the lifelong eating disorder, the pressure on me as a fat woman, have merely been contributing factors to who I am today. Those factors are the things that have led me to do what I do today. The fact that they sometimes crop up again is a very handy reminder of why I am committed to fighting for the rights of fat people, in particular fat women.
Most importantly, they serve to remind me that I am not alone, because I can talk about them here and if I connect with just one of you, it’s worth it.