Are you always dieting and striving to be just that little bit thinner to be happy with your body? I once was. Then a comment by my Grandma changed that.
During my childhood and early teenage years, I was never obsessed with my weight. I enjoyed my food, enjoyed eating well and didn’t have any body image issues. However, I was constantly compared to my older, always-skinnier-than-me sister and was constantly reminded by my family that I was the “chubby” one. I started to have doubts and to question “Do I eat too much?” and “Should I be as thin as her?” On outings and for special occasions we were always dressed in identical cloths and made to stand side by side for family photos, which would always accentuate my larger size. I felt immense pressure to be as thin as her. I didn’t even secretly wish I was as thin as my sister. But I did wish that I wasn’t compared to her.
When I was about 14 years old I discovered a book in the local library which contained none other than tables with lists of foods, their calorie content and their vitamin and mineral content. Although I’d glance across at a food’s nutritional profile, it was its calories that I was focused on (and later become obsessed with). I would eat a slice of bread, race over to the book, scan the calorie content, calculate the amount of calories in the amount I’d eaten and record the figure in an exercise book. (This was obviously before Apps were invented). I’d then eat 3 olives, check the calorie content, calculate the amount of calories I had eaten, record the calories … and do this for everything I’d eaten over the entire day. It was my daily food and calorie log. It was what I now know to be, a food diary. This, as well as many other futile habits, went on for months, even years. Why? Because I was starting to question whether I was eating too much. I thought it would give me an answer as to why I wasn’t as skinny as my sister.
I met my maternal grandmother for the first time when I was 17 years old. She was 70 years old at the time. I remember thinking she was calm, warm and had the most genuine hearty laugh which made her belly wobble, of which she was totally unashamed.
I remember testing her once with a question of whether I was “too fat.” She looked at me kindly and firmly and replied “No.” She then paused and in a slow and reassuring voice said “You are just right”. I remember being surprised. Hearing this had a profound effect on me. She was the first person who saw me as being of normal weight! It was sooo liberating and comforting to hear. At the time, I could have gone down one of two paths. I could have gone down the path of trying to be thinner, maybe even attempting to be as thin as my sister, trying an endless number of diets, giving up, putting the weight back on, having body image issues and possibly ending up with an eating disorder. Or, I could have gone down the path of accepting my body size and eating naturally. I will be forever in debt to my Grandmother for her wise words. She spared me from a life of body dissatisfaction, weight preoccupation and endless diets. Whether it was the power of those words or the timing of these words, I will never know. It could even have been both.
These words helped me to accept myself exactly as I was. I stopped questioning whether I had to be thinner in order to be content with myself. Or, for someone else’s approval. This experience has also made me empathetic to others who are discontented with their body shape, who feel the only answer is a life of dieting and dreading exercise. It has also helped me, in my role as a Dietitian, help those wanting to change their perspective towards their appetite, food and body shape from one of numbers to one of appreciation, enjoyment and respect.
More than thirty years have passed and these words have not lost their original impact. I keep reminding myself to strive for health not for a body shape that I am not. I keep reminding myself to be proud of my body the way my Grandmother was of hers. And mine.