Slice of toast: 100. Club Sandwich: 575. Small bag of Minstrels: 220. Pizza: 800. Food guilt: Off the scale.
I don’t remember when it started. All I know is once I was aware of how many calories surreptitiously hid themselves in each and every item of food, there was no going back…
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no salad eating size zero and to look at me you’d probably never know I worried about what I eat. I’m a curvy size 10 – 12 with my mother’s prominent bum and thanks to a cocktail of cheddar, bread and cheap rosé, a stubborn wobbly pornch that hovers above my skinny jean flies like white chocolate muffin. I’d even go as far to say that, aside from a few hormonal down days where I feel like the most unattractive woman in the world, I’m fairly happy with my figure. So why is it I can’t help but feverishly add and subtract the calories I eat with each meal? And why do I feel a flood of shame when I awake to yellow polystyrene box that I know before I’ve even opened it will have the remnants of a misspent evening’s cheesy chips (yes, with full fat mayo).
Well, I’m the same as pretty much every girl I know. During my three years at University I lived with girls who pretended they’d eaten a whole packet of biscuits when in reality they worried about the calories in toothpaste, ones who did the Hollyoaks’ work out DVD secretly in their room and then there was the one who only ate cereal and encouraged impressionable others to do the same. And the worst part? It is wholly contagious. No matter how hard you try to tell yourself or how loud you find yourself telling others that you don’t care what you eat and that you only live once, there’s still that (skinny) devil on your shoulder telling you to step away from the cheesecake and get down to the gym.
I come from a family of hearty eaters. Hunger was never a feeling I knew very well as we piled our plates with comfort food rather than risk feeling peckish later. So as calorie counting continues to hold my rationale hostage, how did I become this involuntary mathematician when it comes to choosing my breakfast, lunch, dinner and (no doubt remorse-ridden) snacks.
Before I went to University, I’d probably have blamed the media. The likes of Nicole Richie and Sienna Miller, whose legs don’t continue to move even when they’ve stopped walking and who make looking two dimensional seem a feasible ambition. But in reality I know that they have personal trainers who they see twice a day to burn off their diet of celery, cucumber and soup. So I’m starting to doubt these easy targets and since moving away from home and taking on board that eating disorders affect 1.6million people in the UK, there has to be some other trigger. And I think I know what it is.
It’s each and every one of us. If we’re not worrying about how many calories are in our Subway, we’re telling someone else how many there are in theirs. Or if we’re not talking about how much holiday weight we put on over Christmas, we’re ‘sympathetically’ telling someone else that one of our friends has. The consequence is even if we’re fighting to reconnect with our once healthy attitudes towards food, other’s insecurities become entwined with our own and the cycle continues. Resistance is futile.
So this is my resolution to just stop counting. 100, 200 or 1,000 calories; I’m going to try and forget and simply enjoy my food like I used to. But clearly I can’t do it alone. I need you to join me. There is already so much pressure upon us to have the perfect career, to be the perfect girlfriend/wife and be an even better best friend than Carrie, all whilst eating very little and keeping our BMI close to that of a seven year old. But perhaps we put that pressure upon ourselves and it is time we free ourselves of these unrealistic expectations. I’m not saying the ‘Have it All’ culture is a myth, just that its time we rework some of the priorities to ones that actually make us happy and boost our self-esteem, losing focus on the ones that make us feel like bad people for having two sugars in our coffee.
If we all stopped passing the guilt of calories and fat grams amongst ourselves like some toxic pass the parcel, we’d at least notice that we weigh less on the preverbal scales having shifted the huge burden off of our shoulders that comes with the daily battle of eating. Admittedly, this is will not be an easy task as once you let calories into your head it’s almost impossible not to be seduced by the green label denoting low calorie content on a Boots Meal Deal, even if you’d prefer some Doritos. So perhaps we just need to recognise how unimportant these little digits are in the grand scheme of things and if we work together it would no doubt be a whole lot easier to stop letting such menial things fill up our precious brain space.
So next time you spot someone tucking into a ham and cheese Panini, stop your brain from doing the tedious maths because it makes you somehow feel better about yourself and be inspired that she’s risen above the ridiculously unhealthy obsession that’s gripping society. Then go and get yourself one. Sorted.