So. October is once again a distant memory.
Last month’s legacy has been a mixed one. In one respect I feel like I’ve recently made genuine life progress and begun to confront something that I’ve been deferring for a long time.
In others I’ve been working hard to convince myself that I will indeed be slim for life – and that my history of continually yo-yo dieting is finally at an end.
At the start of the month I wasn’t at all convinced. My self confidence was faltering – and whilst winning an award for Slimming World was nice it didn’t really change the fact that I’m still trying to deal with and process many aspects of my new life.
I’ve moved from ‘pathetic’ to ‘successful’ in a relatively short space of time – but just because I’m ‘fixed’ on the outside it doesn’t mean everything is perfect on the inside.
One of the downsides to this newfound attention (as nice and exciting as it can be) is that when you’re losing weight in Slimming World groups you’re in a comfortable and supportive bubble.
Everyone’s in the same boat. We feel the other’s pain, and more often than not we navigate away from saying things to each other that we know may hit a nerve or that aren’t supportive.
We ourselves have a lifetime of learning what hurts our feelings and we don’t throw that in other group members faces.
In short there are many things in Slimming World you will never hear.
In the outside world though it’s all fair game – and you have to quickly develop a thick hide, because when you’re available on social media and appear in the press then the people contacting you for advice don’t necessarily share the same approaches.
Their goal is not to support you – more often than not it’s to get something from you – even if that’s with the best of intentions.
Often (because it’s the way of journalism or the public’s perception of how you should act if you’re present on social media) many people I’ve encountered since the award don’t bother to get into the preamble of getting to know me before lurching into some really quite intimate and personal questions.
If those relate to things that already occupy your thoughts or drive your fears then you’ve got to find a way of coping with lots of people asking you about them over and over and over again.
It doesn’t matter whether I’ve been asked about my journey by dieters or people who’ve never suffered with the same problem – the starting point always seems to be the same.
‘What do you do with all the skin?’
I’m not sure why this is the first thing on everyone’s mind because it was never the first thing on mine when I saw other people losing weight – but I’ll be really honest when I say there is a lot of it left, it does worry me that I’ll never be accepted or loved because of it and I don’t want to have to cut lumps out of myself to be feel better or because someone else wants me to be ‘normal’.
It undeniably hurts though sometimes to be questioned like this – and after the hundredth plus time (I’m not kidding – it’s probably a lot more) of politely answering this question whilst trying to be measured and helpful there have been moments where I’ve felt like screaming ‘it doesn’t matter – why don’t you just want to be healthy and to live a better life?!’
I don’t though.
Like many things this is something (for all the public wrangling I do with my feelings) that I internalise and I don’t usually talk about.
I’ve discussed it with a select few and shown parts of my body to only three other people since I started losing weight and I am terrified of how everyone else will look at me if they see me disrobed.
I can’t bring myself to wear short sleeved tops, shorts above the knee, or go swimming (yet).
I am not ashamed of who I am but I still feel that I don’t want to draw attention as a freak or curiosity like I have done for so much of my life.
I was bullied for so long in my past that the scars from it still run really deep.
Instead I want to blend, be part of everyday society and try to focus on the times that people say to me ‘you don’t ever look like you’ve been big’.
This worry about both acceptance and appearing ‘normal’ has contributed to a major meltdown recently – which as many of my worst ones tend to do – happened almost completely without warning and affected me (and I’m ashamed to say others) deeply.
I’ve been trying to convince myself that many things don’t matter – that’s it’s ok to still be alone at this point in my life, that the skin issue is immaterial, that I will eventually find someone that loves me, a life purpose that drives me like weight loss has, and that I have a future filled with health, vitality and companionship.
I also don’t want to be a fat, drunken failure again and my fear of this is always in the background.
Paradoxically this fear sometimes leads to me right back to the doorstep of comfort eating, and despite losing twenty plus stones I’m still capable of sliding backwards and ‘failing’.
The thing is that now (with my award) I feel much greater pressure to be ‘perfect’ than I ever did before.
Whereas prior to this I was just a guy in a little group in Warwick quietly trying to rebuild his life (albeit in a very public way) now I have the added status of being a role model to add to the mix (not my words – this is what people keep telling me I’ve become) and if you take that the wrong way it can be quite damaging.
The truth is that I’m having to continually confront and remind myself of the fact that to be a healthy ‘role model’ perfection is not required.
Unhealthy examples in social media of plastic smiles and perfect bodies make us all feel undermined and undervalued – and I’m just as guilty as anyone else of feeling like I’m less than I should be because I see a picture of someone who seems to have everything I lack.
I’ll never be Hugh Jackman or look like Chris Hemsworth.
The true role model though is NOT the airbrushed Superhero or Hollywood icon. It’s not to be found in the gym selfie with perfect skin tone and abs – and it’s not in the youthful swimsuit photo on a far away beach – because none of us can be that forever, and even if we are it’s just for a fleeting moment.
Life changes us and our bodies are reflections of the paths we take.
Our baby bellies tell stories of the joy that children can bring and our saggy parts often remind us that we’ve improved our health by losing the weight that once filled those spaces.
We’re more than visual perfection – we’re human beings and we are perfect just the way we are without cutting anything off, without colouring or bleaching our skin or burying our faces in makeup.
We have to make the best of what we have – and if we can do that with confidence then our smiles and our happiness become our social currencies – not the images of us without clothes or posing with a camera pointing down from the sky to get the best possible angles without chins.
So – October (for me at least) has been about getting back to dietary basics, of following the Slimming World plan, of writing a personal food diary every day, of going to group and facing the music or just going there because it helps.
#onplanoctober has worked.
Although I never told a soul this was how the month started on the 1st of October.
After a few really bad days (where if it wasn’t bolted down I ate it) the scales said I was ridiculously out of target.
Officially (in my mind) I was a failure again.
I’d not only taken the expectations of my friends but now also Slimming World’s officials and my blog readership and I’d failed all of them.
I was going to destroy myself again and it was all inevitable.
I couldn’t tell anyone the depths of how ashamed I felt that I thought I was once again eating the pain away.
These are all just things we tell ourselves when our negative inner narrative takes over though. None of it is true and none of it defines reality.
It just leads to bad decisions – of which I’ve made a few recently – and they all happen when I try to deal with things in isolation.
The truth of it is that on Saturday I will stand on stage and accept an award that in many ways I still feel I am undeserving of.
That’s not false modesty.
I know I lost huge amounts of weight. I’m not daft. I’m proud – and I totally killed that objective.
There’s more to getting an award like this though because it’s not about numbers. It’s about being judged ‘worthy’ – and how do you ‘win’ something with that criteria when surrounded by so many others who are just as deserving?
Not only do I struggle with being viewed as inspirational after years of being seen (by myself and others) as a failure – but I met many other men who were in line for the same award as me – and none of us were any less or more deserving of the award.
Yet for some crazy reason it ended up in my hands.
I want to be worthy of it.
I want to be a good example.
I want to be able to help people.
But flawless role models don’t help anyone.
They just show an image that seems to be completely unobtainable and convince people that the journey is impossible – that for whatever reason they will never have what that airbrushed social media personality has.
So I write about how much I fail as much as I feel I can in public- because I feel that my pain, regrets or insight might have value for others.
If they see my weakness they know it’s ok to feel their own – and believe it or not I’ve also found that this makes me feel stronger.
Sometimes I can’t bring myself to do it though and that last picture of me standing on the scales after a week of pigging out is one of those times.
I couldn’t post it or admit it a month ago. I just wanted to fix it without anyone knowing.
With some determination I’ve pulled it around however – and in doing so I’ve not starved myself. I’ve followed the plan, been honest with myself about what’s going in my mouth and I’ve done a LOT of exercise.
My record daily average distance (it’s now 12.5!) has been smashed due to my efforts and this month alone I’ve walked over 387 miles to reach my objective of being healthily under my target weight.
If you wonder what I’ve been eating every day then here’s a typical diary.
- 200g baking potato
- Tub of cottage cheese with onion and chive
- Jar of gherkins
- 3 Tomatoes
- 500g 5% fat pork mince
- Red pepper
- 380g mushrooms
- Large courgette
- Small onion x2
- 240g Kidney beans
- Bunch of broccoli
- Can chopped tomatoes
- 100g blueberries
- 250g frozen Aldi summer fruits
- 250g natural yogurt
- 2x apples
- 2x conference pears
The point that I want to get over here is that in doing what I’ve done in October I’ve not starved myself.
Far from it.
I’ve just eaten (a lot of) healthy food and burned more calories than I’ve consumed.
I drew one of those infamous ‘lines in the sand’ that we all make from time to time after a bad patch in Slimming World and promised myself I will not not cross over it.
My personal line was the screenshot of the scales above.
Yesterday the impetus this picture of personal dissatisfaction gave me meant that I finished with a bang.
After an epic ten mile walk around St Nicholas park (even by my standards this was huge) that had an average mile speed of 15 minutes and six seconds I went home and stood on the scales.
Although they’re my scales and not Slimming World’s I know that they’re accurate (the one in group is always identical) and because of that I have demonstrated once again to myself on an ‘every other day’ basis that over the course of a month if I eat well and work hard good things happen.
I’ve dropped nearly a stone and a half.
It’s worth pointing out too that during the last month things did go both up and down.
There were some odd lurches back up on the scales in October that I simply couldn’t explain – but I stuck to plan, followed it all through and kept going.
So – if anyone out there wants to refer to me as a role model or an inspiration I’m not going to say I feel any more comfortable with the position than I did a month ago – and I doubt I ever will.
I’m still filled in dark times with a crippling lack of self worth and a fear that I’m not going to measure up to peoples expectations of me.
I’m terrified that I’ll let myself down too (my standards are way higher) and I’m often paralysed by how I’ll move forward in life or find love and acceptance in the world.
However – if there’s one thing I can do that will make that fear and insecurity worthwhile its sharing it and making sure that others looking to me for answers will see it’s ok to not be perfect.
It’s ok to fail.
It’s ok to not feel like you can cope from time to time.
It’s ok to worry about who will love you and what they’ll see when they look at you.
You just have to try and take each day as it comes.
If you do internet then good things happen.