Monthly Archives: April 2013

Fat girl enters a marathon, Atkins, Lighter Life and my ‘annus horriblis’

Cheap-Air-Max-17006Could I really run a marathon? That was the question I pondered to myself after watching some of the London Marathon last weekend. I didn’t think so – I know I certainly couldn’t run 26 miles at the moment and I doubt very much I would be able to do it by next year. I would struggle to run much more than 26 minutes, to be fair.

So I set about Googling, and I Googled assorted daft questions like, “Can you walk the London Marathon?”

Apparently, you can. But you’re likely to incur the wrath of the running fraternity if you do, unless of course you’re dressed up as a giant teddy bear or something. It’s only OK to be slow if you are in a costume. Other than that, walking is seen as a bit of a cop out.

While I was Googling though, I came across the ‘Shine Marathon’, which is a full 26 mile walk through London. In the dark. I could do that, I thought, and of course I signed up, didn’t I? It’s in September so I’m training already and so far my longest walk has been 6.5 miles. I’ve got a long old slog in front of me as even six miles gave me blisters…I need better shoes! I’d love it if you’d sponsor me too…

I’ve had lots of thinking time on my walks so far and I’ve been writing blog posts in my head. And then forgetting them. It’s a bit hard writing them at the moment because I promised not to play the blame game, and it’s true, everything that’s happened has been because of the way I reacted to it. But 2001 really was a shit year. I forgot to mention that I got engaged in 2000, didn’t I? Well I knew he was going to ask me, L more or less told me so I took full advantage and made sure she knew the style I wanted and the ring size. L knew most things about my relationship before I did! We didn’t actually have a plan to get married, we just thought we’d do it when we had saved enough. And when I’d lost weight, naturally.

southbeach

Remember when Atkins was all that people were talking about? That and the South Beach Diet which was just Atkins with a few more veggies thrown in. I tried Atkins for about two days and all the protein made me want to barf. I’m not a low carb kinda girl. I couldn’t really see how any diet that said fruit was a bad thing could be sensible anyway and had plenty of arguments about it on online forums.

In 2001, after being booted out of the job I loved, I went back to work in the design agency where L was now working. This was a BAD move. I’d worked there before and quite liked it, only for about six weeks and as an assistant project manager, so I did quite a few interesting things. When I went back I was depressed, still in shock from being made redundant like that and working as a print manager which was a steep learning curve to say the least. I wasn’t the cheery, happy “I’ll do anything” person I’d been a year or so before, and I didn’t want to be there.

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Happier Days – before being made redundant from Spa Plus

The place seemed oppressive and image-obsessed, and I was the only fat person there. Some of the very well paid directors and account managers tottered around on designer kitten heels trailing clouds of expensive perfume behind them, and were so damn thin it made me feel like an elephant. With my confidence dropping through the floor, I didn’t really make an effort. It was a six month contract, and when it got to the end, they didn’t keep me on. There was no more work for me to do, I wasn’t really surprised, but it was the icing on the cake and I was out of a job properly now.

So, you’d expect that Husband #2 would have been supportive? Nah. He said I needed to pull myself together and sort myself out, blamed me for the fact I’d been dumped out of a job three times in 18 months and said (not for the last time) that I wasn’t the person he’d fallen for and that I seemed to attract bad luck.

I cashed in an old endowment policy (remember those?) and we managed to get by. I was only unemployed for six weeks or so, and I managed to get another job with the University of Cambridge, this time editing submissions for a website aimed at genius kids. It was only three days a week and the money was crap but it was better than benefits so I hauled myself into Cambridge and back (H#2 was still working in Cambridge) and did my bit. The only thing tht kept me going was chatting to the mate who rescued me from Spa Starvation Hell on MSN (from now on I’ll just call him my cheerleader) and the nuts woman I worked with…who was Portuguese I think, talked so fast I could only generally pick up one word in three, and was on some bizarre diet where she drank shakes and ate revolting smelling bars. Lighter Life!!

(This was H#2′s album of choice in the car. Just about summed up 2001!)

Just as things had settled down a bit, a couple of weeks before Christmas 2001, my Nan died. I was heartbroken – despite living 150 miles apart me and Nan had always been close. Christmas was rubbish – I had no money, H#2 was in a bad mood, the fridge broke on Christmas Day and the oven door broke between Christmas and New Year. I spent the whole of Christmas & New Year eating junk food to console myself and was getting close to 15 stone by 2002.

Husband #1′s words came back to haunt me; I once asked him “Would you still love me at 15 stone?” and he said, “Yes, but DON’T!”

I felt just about the size of a bus. I hated how I looked, and I was supposed to be a bridesmaid to L and P in 2002. I had to do SOMETHING.

The One Where I Try Weird Stuff

Spa Cover

Writing these blogs is making me realise a lot of things…one of them is that people pleasing has got me where I am now, that is, fat.It’s also made me see that my weight generally settles down when I’m happy. And that the serious weight gain really started not long after I met Husband #2.

I don’t think he was really good for me. When I met him in 1996 I was 11 stone and when we were on the verge of divorce in 2008 I was at my fattest, nudging 19 stone. Ouch.

But that’s missing a lot out. I’m not going to talk about him in this post because there’s some fun stuff to talk about. In 2000 I was made redundant, which would have been the end of the world if (a) I didn’t get another job the same day I lost the first one and (b) I hadn’t been really bored anyway. I worked in the same place as ‘L’ temporarily, which was fine at the time, and I’d been trying to get a writing job for ages after spending months writing for peanuts for start-up dot-coms who needed people to populate their websites. I say peanuts – I was getting paid £30 for a 1000 word article which isn’t far off what I sometimes get offered now!

It was a complete and utter fluke, me getting offered a job as a Features Editor for a beauty trade publishing company. But I wasn’t complaining and I jumped at the chance in summer 2000. I’ve never been happier in a job. I absolutely freaking LOVED my job. This song reminds me of that summer.

I was writing for trade magazines for nail techs, salon and spa owners, but my main job was working with the editor of Spa Plus as that was the newest addition to the group. This meant I got to meet loads of people, try spa therapies and complementary therapies and all sorts. Perfect for an inquisitive journalist desperate to lose weight. I settled at around 14 stone while I was there, despite my list of bizarre weight loss attempts. I’ll just list them.

1. Iridology.

I met a lovely, lovely naturopath from Ely who gave me an iridology session, told me where my imbalances were and gave me a diet sheet. This sheet was doomed to failure because there was no mention of chocolate or coffee. I tried roasted dandelion root coffees and herbal teas, rice cakes and carob. They just aren’t the same, are they? I gave it a go, bought a veggie steamer and a juicer, stuck to it for a few weeks and lost sod all.

2. Reflexology

The same man gave me reflexology sessions. Some were paid-for because to be honest, reflexology was brilliant for me. The only issue I had with it was the time I ate some of his recommended snack of choice, dried apricots, before a session. Oh. My. God. They may have been good for me but when he said he was picking up some abdominal discomfort, he really wasn’t wrong! The reflexology sorted my hormones out but I lost…nothing.

Oh, I also came off the pill forever around this time. I thought I’d lose a load of weight when I did that. Guess what? Nothing. I decided I must have PCOS or a dodgy thyroid. I’ve had about four thyroid tests since and they all came back fine. Not my thyroid then?

3. Reiki

More about inner healing and calm, but there was a part of me that wanted to try Reiki and eventually train in it to Level 2 because I thought it might help me shed my ‘weight issues’. It’s a lovely therapy, but my weight stayed stubbornly the same.

4. Blood Tests

I went up to London and had rather a lot of blood taken out. Apparently weight gain was a sign of undiagnosed food intolerances and they had a very sophisticated test that would tell me what I should cut out. Ready for this? Black pepper, yeast, aubergine and mackerel. No, I have no idea either, I can’t remember when I last had aubergine and don’t eat a lot of mackerel either. So theoretically all I needed to cut out was bread, and stop shaking pepper on my veggies. Right. I swapped to soda bread as it’s yeast-free. No mackerel or aubergine passed my lips. I lost….nothing.

lighten up5. Non Diet Diets

These were NLP based programmes like ‘Lighten Up’ and another one I’ve forgotten the name of. They said no diets were involved but the basis of both was…Eat less. Exercise. I tried them, including the motivational exercises, the NLP, the self-hypnosis. I might have lost a bit but…nope, not a lot.

6. Ayurveda

Yes, really. I got quite into the whole science behind Ayurveda and met with a man who had a clinic in West London. He had the most AMAZING house, overlooking Regents Park, with a lift and pure white carpets. I went there with one of the editors, Alex, and I was petrified I would spill coffee on that beautiful carpet. Anyway, after chatting to him about a feature, he invited me to stay at his clinic. I will remember to this day how he tried to convince me to have a herbal enema. “It will make you feel ten years younger” he told me. Sod that. I was happy with feeling 29. The retreat involved being covered in aromatic oils and steamed in a wooden chamber, where I felt like a Christmas pudding and smelled like one too.

I also had Shirodhara which was divine, where I had warm oils poured on my ‘third eye’ chakra (in the middle of my forehead if you’re wondering) while I was massaged. It did take three shampoos to get the oil out of my hair but it was blissful. The food was…horrible. Spicy food and me don’t mix, and the veggie-style Indian food was too much for my delicate system. I couldn’t finish my lunch on day 2 and actually scraped it down the loo to avoid offending anyone. Ugh. It also had a detrimental effect on the people in the yoga class. Some of them relaxed their muscles a little too much and trying not to fart after all that spicy food was a tricky feat when all around me people were letting loose with the curry farts themselves. It was….an experience.

Last but not least, and still the same weight more or less, I was sent for a four day retreat to Shrubland Hall in Ipswich. They had a reputation for being hardcore…the link above is from the Independent and it just about sums it up. Brutal. The treatments were lovely but the food was mean to say the least. I went prepared with cereal bars in my case but even they couldn’t have prepared me for four days of semi-starvation on grated carrot and broth and NO COFFEE. By day three I was close to fainting. I’d been pummelled, covered in mud, given a cellulite wrap and hosed down in ice cold water and I really needed carbohydrates. I called the friend in Ipswich I was banned from talking to and he came to the rescue. Not only did he come and meet me, and take me over to the pub across the road, but he even gave me contraband Kettle Chips to smuggle past spa reception.

Typically, H#2 called me when I was in the pub. Crap. I ran into the ladies’ – praying that nobody else would come in – and told him the reception was terrible and I was in the bathroom of my suite. Silly really, I hadn’t seen my mate for so long, and we were only having a drink, but if H#2 had known I would have been accused of sleeping with him so it was just easier not to tell him.

After my four days on lettuce leaves, grated carrot, vegetable broth and herbal teas (mostly fennel, if I remember) I was weighed. I lost SIX pounds. In four days. And that’s with the Kettle Chips and a pub dinner! I went over to see my mum the day they let me out, sat down and ate a huge roast dinner, and by the time I’d finished I had put four pounds back on. Oh well.

Then, a week after my 30th birthday in March, after a meeting with the publisher where he’d promised me a pay rise and potentially a promotion, he called me in for a chat. And made me redundant.

Party of a lifetime

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I am enjoying myself, honestly!

Do you remember 1999? Of course you do. If the pressure was ever on to get skinny for a Christmas party, it was that year.

I’d been feeling a lot better in 1999. Mainly because I managed to escape from the relentless negativity of the job I hated, and move miles away so that I never had to see the perpetrator of my bullying hell ever again. Unfortunately, I ended up in Soham, which even before the only thing the place the town is famous for was still a sh*t hole.

Anyway, despite everything, and despite the temptation for me to rattle off all the things my awful boss did that made me miserable before I managed to escape, things were a bit better in 1999. My determination to move away and leave Suffolk Trading Standards behind me, coupled with the amount of self help books I had been reading, made me feel a lot stronger. I wasn’t bingeing so much, although I was still overeating. I hadn’t managed to lose any weight, despite joining Slimming World AGAIN in Ipswich just before I moved. I think I dropped about half a stone and then put it back on again, same old, same old.

Husband #2 had managed to successfully cut me off from most of my friends and family before we left. Now, I don’t really want to get all whiney about it, because it was me doing my people-pleasing and not standing up for myself that allowed it to happen. But I got earache for spending time with my parents, he didn’t like my male friends (he’d banned me from even talking to one of them, and moaned about my work-mate Mark who he said fancied me, but clearly didn’t) and even managed to stop me seeing my closest female friend because she was ‘weird’ and ‘she’s always trying to split us up so that you can go out with her more’. She wasn’t.

I was allowed to see L, and her boyfriend P, though. We moved to Soham because they lived there, and because she’d managed to get H#2 a job back in the office they’d met in. Cosy, huh? But I was just desperate to get away and ignored any alarm bells.

As soon as I got to Soham that October I rejoined Slimming World. This was going to be my new start! I did meet a lovely girl there, who became a good friend. She was getting on for 18 stone when she started and was losing astonishing amounts of weight every week. With my eating disorder head on, I was a bit worried, but she was clapped and cheered every single week for 5, 6 and 7 pound losses. I asked her how she did it one day and she said that she ate less than 1000 calories most days. usually about 800. She was working in a hospital at the time, on her feet every day and had almost fainted more than once. Why didn’t it occur to the leader to ask her if she was OK? She wasn’t anorexic, but she was undereating massively and to the point of fainting for God’s sake. We weren’t close enough for me to lecture her at that point.

She went on to get through to the finals of the Slimming World Woman of the Year competition in either 2000 or 2001. She lost SO much weight and had got down to a size ten, so she was thrilled. Her boyfriend proposed. She did confess to me that the speed she’d lost the weight had left her with the dreaded loose skin, and to me she looked gaunt, but as I was 14 stone at the time, it would have sounded like sour grapes to say so. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to say with a resigned sigh that when she went through a bad time a couple of years later she put the whole damn lot back on again with interest.

As we got closer to The Millennium I was panicking big time about my weight. We planned a big party at home and I knew there’d be pictures. The weight loss adverts were everywhere. Looking good for the Year 2000 parties was ESSENTIAL. My heroine at the time was J-Lo and I kidded myself I could have a booty like hers if I just managed to stick to my Red Days and Green Days, and didn’t go over my Syns. Guess what? I couldn’t. I didn’t. And I never will.

I saw the 21st century in on a cocktail of vodka, painkillers and sheer determination as I came down with the ‘flu that was doing the rounds on New Year’s Eve. I collapsed into bed around 2.30 am and the next morning I couldn’t speak, eat or move and all I wanted was very cold cranberry juice to drink. But the good thing was it got me out of clearing up the wreckage.

2000 was going to be fabulous. I was going to lose weight, sort myself out and do something with my life. Really.

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This is the face of a woman who should have cancelled her party…

 

Samantha Brick and the Daily Mail Media Monster

I’m going to start by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect, given that La Brick indirectly called me a failure yesterday by Brick2virtue of my size. I don’t think that she’s as bad as we all think she is.

If I were to write a really good article for the Daily Mail on why it’s perfectly OK to be fat, and how I enjoy my life, have a happy relationship and I’m pretty healthy even at a size 22, you can bet your sweet ass that their journos would twist it so that it poked fun at me, or had me saying that I was a miserable fatty who hated myself and couldn’t run up a flight of stairs if my life depended on it.

Samantha Brick knows she is onto a good thing.  She writes deliberately controversial articles designed to really wind people up. The Daily Mail pays her for this because they KNOW how much it winds people up, so we’ll comment, share on Facebook and Twitter and write blogs about it like this. We’re all at fault, yes, even me.

Sam can’t see that her cash cow will soon get fed up with her, and before they have tired of her “I’m so beautiful” persona, she will have become a one-trick pony and a figure of derision. It’s gonna be a self-fulfilling prophecy, Sam. Keep upsetting everyone and they really won’t like you. And it won’t be because we are all so super-jealous of your looks, it will be because we’re sick to death of hearing about how much better than everyone else you seem to think you are!

I couldn’t possibly be jealous of a woman who thinks it’s OK to buy a house with no kitchen because she’s so terrified of eating. Or that it’s perfectly normal to diet so savagely four times a year that she has no energy to work. Or that her odd-looking husband is totally reasonable when he threatens that if she gains weight he’ll divorce her.

We’ll never agree. I’m an overweight woman who hasn’t got a modicum of self-respect, and who shows every sign of being a failure, stuffed under my size 22 tunic top. But I wonder…who’s really happier….

Sarah_01_031999a

You Can Heal Your Life. But not with chocolate.

Sarah_01_031999aI should really be writing about something else at the moment but my brain has gone into uncooperative teenager mode and all it wants to do is play Bubble Island and surf the Internet. I’m on the verge of a decision that’s going to cost me a chunk of my income but in the interests of slaying my people-pleasing dragon, there’s someone that needs removing from my working day.

People pleasing. It’s got me into so much trouble over the years, and it works hand in hand with my ‘please like me’ nature and inability to confront just about anyone, even if they are standing on my foot, and say “You’re hurting me. Please stop.”

Back in 1998, I wasn’t in a good place. I should have been, really. I’d just moved H#2 in with me, we were OK, he still wasn’t speaking to my parents even though they’d apologised for the way they’d treated him when we first met, but it wasn’t a massive deal as I still lived in the same town as them so I got to see them, and my friends, without too much aggravation. He made his feelings known about some of my friends; the male ones all wanted to sleep with me, the female ones were ‘weird’ and the only one he really approved of was ‘L’ who he was still in love with. I mean in touch with. Silly me.

But he wasn’t the problem. V was. In 1998 I went to my doctor, and told him about my food issues, being bullied and humiliated by V, my stress, how miserable I was, and the fact I had come out in eczema so badly that it was all down my legs, arms, shoulders and back and nothing would shift it. He was great! He listened and suggested that I saw an eating disorders specialist at Ipswich Hospital. At last – a cure. I bought books on eating disorders; Geneen Roth advised anyone with a binge eating problem to stock up on the things they were scared to have in the house, so that there was always enough of them and no need to binge. Right. I was too scared to do this in case H#2 thought I was a fruit loop. I bought Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr Christopher Fairburn and I sat there and read it, stunned as he described me. Shit. I had an eating disorder. I was officially a looney Sarah_Christmastune. I told H#2 with some trepidation that I had an appointment to see someone and he didn’t get it. He laid into me for lying to him about having an eating disorder. “I only just realised” I remember saying. “I thought I was just crap at dieting until recently.”

It was another step down off the pedestal, was that. He was already unhappy in his job in Ipswich, and I was miserable and being bullied at work. He hid it from me that he was being bullied as well. You can see how this is going to end, can’t you? Shame I didn’t.

So I made it to the hospital, really excited about getting help at last.

I poured my heart out. The sympathetic consultant, or whatever he was, nodded, murmured support and then told me that I seemed very self aware and that I clearly realised I had a problem with food. “Yes, yes” I was thinking. “Please help me!”

He then pronounced me intelligent enough to find my own solutions, and said that the NHS unfortunately only had the resources to help people who were causing themselves dangerous harm through their eating disorder. I should have lied and told him I was throwing up. I cried all the way home. So, next time you hear someone in government lecturing about obesity being a killer, remember that in 1998 just being a fat binge eater wasn’t considered dangerous at all. I was on my own.

I couldn’t talk to H#2 because he didn’t understand. I’d stumbled upon ASED, a community of people with eating disorders online, and that was a help although I could only access it at work. There were people with full on anorexia and bulimia venting about their self hatred, and it did put things into a bit of perspective for me if nothing else. I started to feel valued because I was more of a ‘counsellor’ to the others when I was having a good day. I did have a lot of bad days, and they’d support me too. It was a wonderfully nurturing community and I think it helped me feel less powerless and useless. I listened to Alanis Morisette a LOT in 1998. My favourite three albums were:

  • Alanis Morisette – Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
  • The Manic Street Preachers – This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours
  • Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing

I still can’t listen to any of them without going right back to that time! Here’s a taste of Alanis:

It was a REALLY depressing playlist.

All the good ASED was doing for me was being cancelled out by V and her bitching. In the summer of 1998 I went with her to the Suffolk Show for two days, two 12 hour days in a hot marquee giving consumer advice. Typical of my luck, I came down with yet another viral infection, this time in my eye. I couldn’t handle sunlight! My eyes were streaming and there was no way I could have called in sick so I spent the entire time with dark glasses on, in the marquee, out of the sun. She KNEW I was ill – she was with me the whole time. I assumed that when I called in sick the day after the event, when I was due back in the office, she would understand that I was poorly and that looking at a VDU screen all day wasn’t going to be a good idea. Instead, she called me into the dreaded office for a meeting with her and another manager, put me on report for my sick leave and blasted me for faking it.

I called the council’s staff welfare department and asked for help. I was offered six sessions of free one to one counselling. Great, I Louise Haythought, this will help. I had to tell the cow where I was going though, because it was in work time. Great, just give her more ammunition! It turned out that the counsellor was new to the game and very much of the “Blame it on your parents” persuasion. He had me dredging up every incident I could think of from my childhood, cuddling my inner child and being hypnotised.

I still ate everything in sight when I thought nobody was looking and weighed more than I ever had. He didn’t last long. The only good thing I got from him was a recommendation to read Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” which introduced me to the idea of positive thinking. I thought it was a bit woo-woo but a lot of it did sink in.

I was so down. I got yelled at by a group of morons who passed me in a car one night on the way home, yelling, “Stop eating pies and go on a diet, fat bitch” or words to that effect. I cried all the way home.

I didn’t join any diet clubs during those years. There was no point, no point at all.

Natalie Cassidy

“I’ve had my weight problems but I think that makes me a normal person.”

Self-confessed yo -yo dieter actress Natalie Cassidy reveals how she finally learned to love herself.

Natalie Cassidy

Happy to be able to ease into a pair of size 10 jeans and at the weight she wants to stay forever, it hasn’t always been the same for bubbly ex-east Enders star Natalie Cassidy, 29. She worried fans when she ditched four stone for the launch of her best-selling DVD, admitting to taking laxatives to her drop  the last few dress sizes only to shoot back up to a size 16 months later and her weight has been on public display right ever since.

“It’s true to say I’ve never had an easy relationship with food, even as a teenager I struggled to maintain a regular weight and I suppose it suited me to play Sonia in East Enders as she was the “fat” one who didn’t have to look too glamorous. It still hurt when I saw pictures of me in a bikini with the headline “beached whale”

“After that I did lose weight. I tried everything from the Cabbage Soup to the Atkins plan but whenever something big happened in my life it affected my weight. When my good friend and co-star on East Enders Wendy Richard died people accused me of comfort eating but it wasn’t like that – I just lost the motivation to diet.”

It was when Natalie was at her slimmest that she really suffered. “I was asked to do a fitness DVD and I saw it as a way to get back into shape but I ended up getting out of control. I went from a size 16 to a tiny size 8 in just weeks.”  Natalie was living in a tracksuit and felt hungry all the time, and she admits she became obsessed with food, eating only an apple at meal times, and was “tired all the time.”

“One day I just snapped, went home, began to eat and piled the weight back on again.”

Months later Natalie got the chance to appear on Strictly, and for once she didn’t have to diet, she dropped two dress sizes naturally and felt fabulous.  “Just after the series I fell pregnant and did put weight on again but I think having Eliza proved the turning point when it came to yo-yo dieting:  I suddenly realised there was something in my life that was more important than me and how I looked.”

To help her lose her mummy tummy Natalie enlisted the help of personal trainer Rob Horslen who gave her a programme of walking, fitness and weights as well as a diet that’s helped her achieve her new curvy size 10 shape and made her feel sexy again. “I’ve lost 1 st 2lbs just by being sensible.  I prepared all my meals myself so I knew exactly what I was putting in. I stuck to a high protein and veg diet of 1,200 calories a day and cut out carbs completely.”

Natalie trains six days a week, working on her upper body one day and lower the next with a high intensity cardio in between and reckons she the fittest she’s ever been. “I’ve even found a herbal supplement called Thisilyn Artichoke that’s helped with my bloating problem. I might never have a totally flat stomach but this really helped when I’ve eaten too much pasta or bread. “

Natalie is Ambassador for the Health Lottery, something she’s really proud of: “I’ve had my weight problems but I think that makes me a normal person. I want women to be realistic about dieting, it’s not just something you start every January, a diet should be a way of life. I want to be a role model for women who’ve had the same problems as me, I’d like to think they can look at me and achieve their goals, too.”

Natalie uses Thisilyn Artichoke which has helped her to beat the bloat and maintain a healthy digestion. Available from Boots, (7.99 for 30 capsules for 30) visit www.thisilynartichoke.co.uk for details.

Thanks to Abby Knight for this interview, which was scheduled to appear in the March issue of Inspired Magazine…another one that wasn’t published!

The hard stuff

1996Right. This is where it gets a bit emo, so I’m just going to type it all in some kind of stream of consciousness BLAH style and go back later to tidy up the typos. I have to get this one started as I’m starting to dream about Husband #2 and ‘L’ for reasons you’ll discover…all in good time!

So I moved back to Ipswich, back in with my parents, and I may as well have turned 15 again. I hadn’t dealt with my feelings about my parents and growing up, I was still pretty fricking immature really, and I reverted to behaving like a stroppy teenager. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that my parents didn’t like my boyfriend. They thought it was too soon after Husband #1. We’d been ‘separated’ five months but OK, to be fair it looked bad as I was seeing him less than a week after moving out of the marital home. Never mind that a few days later I was legally single again as the divorce came through in August 1996. So, I was fed up, temping in a badly paid job, living with my parents and had a boyfriend who lived in the next county. Sounds depressingly familiar. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, eating like it was 1989.

With my parents’ disapproval spurring me on like a rebellious teenager, I spent hours in phone boxes talking to him, writing letters and seeing him as often as I could. The more they tried to keep us apart the more I dug my heels in. It was good to start with anyway;  we had a good time together and he actually seemed to have me up on some kind of ‘older woman’ pedestal. His family were OK so I went to stay with his parents a lot, and with cooperative friends who took pity on us like we were some kind of 1990s Cathy and Heathcliffe.

The weight stacked on, and after a particularly gluttonous Christmas and a New Year spent in Loughborough drinking with an old schoolfriend, I was well into my size 16s again. I was planning to move in with an ex-workmate in January 1997 so I just figured I’d join Weight Watchers in the new year, as they had a free membership offer on.

Just before Christmas, I’d started work for Ipswich Trading Standards. This job, which I’d thought would be just like the job I’d loved so much in Cambridge, was meant to be the start of settling down again. I’d have a permanent job, I could get a house (this was the 90s, remember, it was easy back then) and I wouldn’t be at the mercy of parental dictats or a badly paid job.

1997Ha bloody ha. So I moved in with the workmate from my temping job, who expressly made a point of selling me the idea by saying H #2 could stay whenever he wanted. So he did. And she made it very clear that she didn’t actually want him there after all. Or me, to be fair. She’d asked me to move in because she wanted help paying her mortgage but in all honesty she hated sharing the house with me and I was looking for a house of my own within two months.

I joined Weightwatchers in January 1997 but soon found every excuse possible not to go to meetings. I was back to well over 12 stone again by then. Not exactly ‘Big Body Squad’ material but still bigger than I’d been for a couple of years. I put it down to enjoying alcohol and going out to eat a bit too much but in all honesty, there was some pigging out going on if I ever got the house to myself. I didn’t very often, which saved me from going too mad. I lost sod all though, of course, and gave Weightwatchers up as a bad idea very soon. All that point counting had just added to calories, Syns and Fat Units in my daily battle against myself. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror but wasn’t sufficiently bothered enough to diet very often. After all, my 20 year old boyfriend liked me as I was.

So…how come I got really fat? Well it started in 1997. My line manager was a woman I’ll call ‘V’, a frustrated and really quite bitter ex-dancer and model who was getting close to 60 and was exceptionally jealous of any woman cleverer than her. Which to be fair was most of the women in the office who had got there through merit and qualification rather than knowing someone. She was incredibly thin, and looked at chubby ol’ me with disdain. To start with, she didn’t pick on me, because she was already bullying another girl, but when her victim left after being signed off for months with depression, there were two girls left to choose from, and I made the schoolgirl error of not siding with V against the other girl. The other girl realised she was better off on the boss’ side and before I knew it, I was the Chosen One.

I don’t know why V felt the need to try and undermine me at every turn, but she did. She had an obnoxious habit of calling me into the office at every given opportunity for some minor transgression or another and making me feel permanently on edge. She’d tell me I’d done something wrong when I patently hadn’t and everyone else knew I hadn’t. She’d change the letters I’d written before they were sent out, just because she had to make a point, and usually made some really bad spelling or grammar error that I’d change back and hope she wouldn’t notice. Not only that, but she commented on my weight, remarking on what I ate and asking whether I was “still on a diet.” During one humiliating episode, V and the other girl ganged up on me in front of everyone else and started interrogating me about my diet, which culminated in one of them actually asking me, “So, Sarah, how much DO you actually weigh now?” – I remember the other girl, who’d been chubby herself, saying, “You must weigh more than me now?” I was mortified.

weightwatchersIt was hell. By now I’d bought my first house, a gorgeous Victorian terraced house with three bedrooms, and had a lodger. She was the sister of a really good friend and we got along well. The truth was that even with a £32,000 mortgage I was struggling a bit. When I walked out of my first marriage I took hardly anything, used the money I got from him buying me out as a deposit on my house and had to start from scratch. On a salary of about £13K. I was being bombarded with cheap credit offers and I had a house with three bedrooms, two reception rooms and no furniture. To compound everything I was getting into debt and I’d also find myself buying ‘little things’ to cheer myself up. A book here, a nail polish there…

kickers

I actually had these shoes. Still no fashion sense.

…and food. My lodger, who was lovely, was also away a lot. I was completely free most nights to stuff my face with anything I wanted, and so I did. In between buying diet books and rejoining Weightwatchers and Slimming World, which had relaxed its rules and now let you have fruit all day too for ‘free’, I also signed up for an online ‘Weight Loss Consultant’ course. Yes, really. And I passed it with flying colours as my arse got bigger. I’d feast on fish finger sandwiches and potato waffle sandwiches late at night, biscuits, Chinese from the place down the road, you name it.

Husband #2 moved in with me in 1998. We had a HUGE argument about my money situation which he accused me of lying to him about. My argument was that I had no need to tell him about it, until he decided to move in with me. It didn’t put him off enough to move back OUT, of course. Well why would he, he had a ready made home to move into that someone else had bought and kitted out, and he could go from one Mummy to another…

zest1Over the course of 1997-98 I developed the worst habit possible; I would start every day telling myself I was going to diet, but by the time I got to Sainsburys on my way to work, I would be in such a foul mood that I’d forget all about it and find myself in the supermarket buying crisps, biscuits, cakes, pork pies, all junk food. It was disgusting. I’d hide them all in my drawer at work and eat my way through them during the day. Sometimes I’d go out and get more at lunchtime, too. Then, I’d be so disgusted with myself because I’d done it again that I’d force myself to take the stash home and finish it before H#2 got home from work. I’d make myself feel sick, telling myself that if I made myself feel crap (again) I wouldn’t do it tomorrow, and that I deserved it for having no self control. I was punishing myself on a daily basis. I’d often pick up a magazine on my way home, telling myself the images of slim, beautiful women would inspire me. Did they b*ll*cks!!??

I hated myself by now. I was over 13 stone at the start of 1998, and back at Weightwatchers. I even tried kickboxing with a friend, but when we got to the bit where I had to actually hit someone, I wussed out. I had to hold on to the bathroom walls as I lowered myself onto the loo for about three days after my first session, I didn’t think anything could hurt so much!

I joined the local authority gym and went for a while…I actually didn’t mind it, and when I had been getting on with the other girl in the office, before she turned into a bitch, we went swimming together. I will always remember the time I was in the middle of doing ab crunches with my arse in the air, and as I looked through my legs at the person walking past, caught sight of one of my biggest school crushes. Bugger! He said hi, and grinned at me. There wasn’t a lot I could do other than grin back.

It was around the summer of 1998 that I realised I had an *actual* problem. And turned myself into a professional victim…

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“Burlesque has the ability to transform our thinking about what we should look like.”

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According to Sapphire Rox, the creator of Suffolk-based burlesque outfit Agent Burlieque, that is.

The gorgeous Sapphire isn’t afraid to speak her mind, championing the cause of the plus size woman and bringing the delicious fun and freedom of burlesque to the East Anglian audience. I caught up with Sapphire and asked her to tell me more.

For those of us who might not know, what is burlesque about?

“Burlesque has many different faces. Mainly it’s an art form used to express a theme along with feminity; done well it is a tantalising expression of the female (and more regularly male) form.

“At Agent Burlieque we like to work with performers who have highly expressive themes which have audiences on the edge of their seats. Burlesque appeals to women on a grand scale as it inspires and empowers them.”

What was it that got you fired up to start your own troupe?

“I’m a Londoner born and bred and moving to Suffolk to raise my young family meant that I was leaving the creative scene in London.

“I expected  Suffolk tohave an established burlesque scene and was blown away when I couldn’t find burlesque at London standard. I took it upon myself to do something about it, and that’s how Agent Burlieque started. We’re a burlesque troupe and also a booking agent, an events company that holds hen nights and workshops.”

The outfits are amazing – where do you get them from?

“Thank you! Each performer carefully selects costumes that reflect the themes of their acts; and of course they need to be easily removable! We all scout high and low for pieces, in vintage markets and car boot fairs, burlesque swap shops and high street stores. Then we customise! Burly girls are known to stay up all night carefully rhinestoning and glitzing up outfits, trimming with beads and making props by hand.”

Agent Burlieque is made up of women from many backgrounds – can you tell us a bit about them?

“The core troupe of Agent Burlieque changes, as does the burlesque scene. We have around 40 performers from all different walks of life, most of them with day jobs. We currently have a call centre worker, a hairdresser, a fire fighter, a tattoo artist, a mum, a prison officer and a stay at home father!”

Let’s be honest – women who are big, curvy or fat are derided constantly in the media at the moment. Do you think that burlesque can help a bigger woman feel more confident in a fat-phobic world?

“Isn’t it terrible? That we as humans are made to feel constantly terrible about ourselves? And it’s not about being different; we all know size 16 is average in the UK and yet we are made to feel singled out; that we are to be ashamed of our body shape. Burlesque fights that to the very core. The following burlesque has I think is largely down to the sheer love of the human body and the empowerment found by both men and women when they watch burlesque.

“Burlesque has the ability to transform current thinking about body shape and what we should look like.”

What’s your take on the way fat people are bullied by the media?

“You know I really am up for celebrating curves, but also thin people, gay men, everyone. None of us should feel ashamed of who we are simply because the advertising agencies want to make a mint out of us. To be ashamed gives the diet, media and fashion industries a financial gain.

“There is a different way to live and that is to accept and celebrate who you are as an individual; and sometimes it can be hard to do that. But find burlesque and you will find you are happy just the way you are.

“I think it is the only industry I know of that can positively transform the media’s harmful message about the female form.  After shows both men and women thank me for bringing them peace…peace that they are just right however and whoever they are.”

Do you have any advice for curvy girls on looking and feeling fabulous?

“Yes!! Show it off! Be confident in the way you dress, don’t hide. Put your red lippy on, do your hair, wear high-waisted skirts and show of that backside! Put on your heels when you go out and paint a ‘look at me’ expression on your face.

“We’ve been told by the media that people only want to look at us when we are thin and model like, but we want to look at them because they are confident and happy in themselves, not because they are thin.

“Once you start showing off your curves instead of hiding them under loose clothes you will also attract the positive attention you deserve and you’ll be sending out the positive message to other curvy people that curves are sexy!”

Lastly – do you have any plans for performances in Essex, especially Chelmsford? Would you be available for booking in the area?

“We are due to perform all over Essex and would very much like to do a show in Chelmsford soon.

“As well as our shows, burlesque hen nights and workshops we also perform at birthday parties, weddings, festivals, vintage fairs, pubs, clubs and bars.”

If you would like to know more about booking Agent Burlieque for an event or would like to know about training or performing please visit www.agentburlieque.com

NB: This interview was scheduled to appear in the March issue of Inspired Essex magazine, but as that didn’t get published, I didn’t want it to go to waste!

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scales

Fat Shaming

scalesSomething happened to a friend of mine today which pissed me off so much (sorry Mum) that I just had to write about it. I’d love to know if you think I’m over-reacting.

OK, so I have a lovely friend called Rachel. I’ve never met her in real life but we talk on Facebook a lot and she’s funny, very smiley and clever. She’s the kind of person who always has a kind word to say, some advice or a word or two to pep anyone up who’s having a hard time. Rachel has had a tough time of it herself for one reason and another and she’s been treated for depression.

So today she told me that she’d been to the doctor for a non-weight related issue, and the nurse insisted on weighing her. I’m sure Rach won’t mind me saying that yes, she is significantly overweight, big enough that it’s not going to be a huge shock to find she’s in the obese section on the BMI charts. Not that you have to be enormous to be in that section anyway. but she knows she’s big, like most fat people do. She didn’t want to weigh herself. Like a lot of people with weight problems, she struggles with low self-esteem and has been working really hard to be positive despite her feelings about her weight. The nurse wouldn’t take no for an answer. Of course, when she looked at the scales, the nurse proceeded to lecture her about doing something about her weight, and even though she wasn’t actually nasty, Rachel left the surgery feeling like crap.

Why did she need to do it? I don’t get it. If someone is clearly overweight, they already KNOW they are. They don’t need to be humiliated and lectured, that fat didn’t just appear overnight, most of us have been struggling for years with diet after diet. we’re constantly reminded that we’re fat and disgusting, unfit and unhealthy, so why do we need the numbers? Why do we have to be humiliated by medical professionals who continue to tell us that diets are the only way to lose weight (yeah right) and who suggest a diet sheet for people with eating disorders because they can’t be arsed to fork out for proper help?

Anyway. Rachel has been distraught all afternoon. She’s gone on that horrible downward spiral, getting very upset, weighing herself again on the wii, just to make herself feel even worse, and beating herself up with the “I’m fat and useless” stick. All because that nurse insisted on weighing her for no obvious reason. This is what Rachel wrote, and she’s given me permission to share it. I think lots of people will understand…and Rachy, you’re very talented.

They say you should be happy, you’re lovely as you are.
They say embrace your body and your mind will take you far.
They say that diets make you fat and so you shouldn’t try,
So why do I just want to cry?

They say that once you’re happy with yourself then you’ll be free
They say that when your head is straight, then comes the real ‘me’,
They say that if you want to change then what will be will be,
So why do I just feel so lost?

Perhaps the time has come when I should just give in,
Realise for once that I will never be thin,
Put all ideas of being gorgeous firmly in the bin,
So why does that make me feel so sad?

I need to make some changes to my life, but what are they?
I need to do something positive to help myself each day,
Until I do, these thoughts will never go away.
So why can’t I do this for me?

By Rachel Townsend.

Isn’t it brilliant? I just had to share it. Now I’m off to calm myself down – I’d really like your opinions on the whole bullying fat people thing though. Am I being sensitive? Should the nurse have respected Rachel’s wishes NOT to be weighed just for the sake of it?

twinkle

The break up diet

twinkle

OK, so I’m back on the autobiography…I needed a rest from the reminsiscing!

As you can probably guess, my marriage went spectacularly tits up in 1996. I thought about this long and hard, and there’s lots I could say that would have just dragged it all back up again, but to be honest, it was a divorce, it wasn’t nice, we said we’d stay friends and we didn’t really. we stayed living in a one bed, one up, one down house for five months after we agreed it was over, and you want to try going through a divorce while you’re still sharing a bedroom? It’s not the easiest thing in the world.

It didn’t really affect my weight, weirdly enough. I genuinely don’t think anything that happened in that first marriage did make me feel any differently about myself. I wasn’t fat, I just never really felt slim enough. Being properly fat now, I can see there’s a BIG difference.

I spent as much time as possible out of the house, and went away every weekend. I drank a lot, but didn’t overeat that much. I read a lot of books about diets not working, including one of my favourites ever, ‘Fabulous Figures’ by Rachel Swift. If you can get hold of it, you should as it’s fun, and always used to put me in a good mood by reminding me I didn’t have to be skinny (I wasn’t) and diets were rubbish (that hadn’t quite sunk in yet). I didn’t go on any major diets that year…although I did count calories and eat low calorie meals. Then I’d go out for dinner with mates and drink loads, which kind of cancelled it out.

The only weight-related thing worth mentioning was that for the first time ever, one day when I was going through a horrible, stressful day, I had an overwhelming urge to make myself sick. I remember it vividly, it wasn’t anything to do with feeling fat, it was all about the build up of tension in me and not feeling able to scream, shout, swear or tell H#1 how I was really feeling. I never did it, and I never have, even though I’ve felt that tension build up since.

Being single(ish) meant I started getting male attention again. or noticing it, anyway. I was around 11 stone most of 1996, a size 12-14 in most shops. Men seemed to like me, probably because I wasn’t looking for one. I went out with the girls one night, not long after I’d separated from H#1 and I ended up with three phone numbers and a dance to ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ at the end of the night. I actually saw him a few times but nothing happened, I wasn’t up for anything and he didn’t want a semi-married woman anyway. I also got a bit too close to someone I shouldn’t have done, but again, I wasn’t up for anything full on at the time so I said if he was really interested, he’d have to wait until I left H#1 properly. We decided to stay friends instead.

I hated hurting H#1. I felt guilty ALL the time. I’d go away at the weekend, then come back and listen to him telling me he’d been to this party and that night out and I used to pray he’d copped off with someone because then I wouldn’t feel so guilty about divorcing him. I didn’t know how to deal with it so I wasn’t very nice to him. To be fair, he could be pretty mean to me at times but that’s break ups for you.  partyEventually I moved back to Ipswich in the summer of ’96. Not before I’d met husband #2 though…

The first time I met him he came along on a night out as a friend of a friend. ‘L’ was working with him and they spent a lot of time together. She’d put him on the phone to me when we were talking and we’d had a laugh. I thought he had a crush on my friend. We hit it off one night out bowling, but I didn’t think of him as boyfriend material. He was five years younger than me, and a bit of a lad, plus he lived in the Fens and I was about to move miles away.The last day I was in Cambridge, I had a party. We were meant to go out into the City but I was feeling hopelessly emotional and drank a two litre bottle of disgusting Liebfraumilch wine in about an hour and promptly threw up in the sink.

Husband #2 was there already, with ‘L’ and a couple of others. He came to see how I was (I had gone upstairs to lie down) and before I knew it, was kissing me, despite the fact I probably smelled of vomit. He did stay over; he was supposed to sleep downstairs with my brother and his partner but instead he made his way upstairs with me. I woke up the next morning and thought “Oh shit, what have I done?”

Thankfully, I’d not been in any fit state to do anything much. We said goodbye and he said he’d be in touch. I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere…but what did I know? Oh, and this was the start of my REAL problems with food.

PS: The picture above was taken on THAT night. That’s my brother with his arm round me. I looked a state but that dress was a Top Shop size 12. And how sad am I that I actually REMEMBER that?