PUT THE FORK DOWN AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: LESSONS FROM MY 90-DAY FOOD JOURNAL
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my body since I was 11 years old. That’s 23 years of swinging from loving every bit of me to nit-picking and finding a flaw every time I looked at my reflection. My earliest memory of being dissatisfied with my body is of me flipping through a Shout magazine and wondering why I didn’t look like the skinny white pre-teens and teens in those pages. Sometimes I’d sit in the bathroom and wonder how to make myself puke everything I’d just eaten, because denying myself food just wasn’t going to work. But the near absence of my gag reflex made that impossible, which in hindsight was a good thing because I would probably have developed a severe eating disorder.
Fast-forward to my early 20s and my body confidence peaked. My boobs were a full C-cup, my waist-to-hip ratio was working for me, and while I still didn’t have the flat stomach I’d always wanted, I was relatively happy with my body.
Then I got pregnant at 30 and my body confidence took a big hit. I started showing around 5 months in and it was downhill from there. My all-day all-night morning sickness made it impossible to eat anything but starch, so I ate a lot of bread, noodles, crackers, rice cakes, chapati, plain rice and very little protein and vegetables. I didn’t work out. I had a desk job that didn’t require much physical exertion and to be honest, I had no interest in moving my body. So I gained weight, and I kept it on after I had the baby.
I remember going on a family holiday in June 2018, just a month before our daughter (Gong) turned 1. I was having a great time, until I saw some pictures we took during the trip and by the time I got back home, I was obsessed with the idea of losing weight. I was back to being the little girl in the bathroom with the magazines, pretending to be confident on the outside but hating herself on the inside. I was researching diets and oscillating between eating very little and bingeing – I still wasn’t working out so nothing much changed.
In August 2019, while on another trip to the coast during which I posted selfies “feeling cute” while hiding my insecurities, I decided that things needed to change. A friend gifted me a 3-month gym subscription for my birthday – one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received – and I’ve been working out (mostly regularly) since September 2019. The difference on the scale between then and now isn’t much, but my tape measure says otherwise (bye inches!).
Three months ago I decided to keep a food diary to help me get closer to my health and fitness goals (not just weight loss). I finally accepted that working out without addressing my relationship with food wouldn’t give me the results I was looking for.
This is what I’ve learned after writing down everything I’ve eaten and drank over the past 90 days:
- I’m an emotional eater, and I eat through the entire range of emotions – whether I’m happy, stressed, bored, sad, overwhelmed, you name it, I can find just the food for the situation.
- Moderation is key. I don’t need to eat a full tube of Pringles and finish strong with Oreos. However, I will delay gratification then eat the brownie if I want to. I will break that chocolate chip cookie over my popcorn and enjoy a quiet night in once in a while (a while is not every day). I just need to remember that balance is important.
- You cannot out-exercise your mouth. Trust me, I’ve tried. If that were possible, I’d probably be smaller than I was pre-baby, since I’ve worked out out more in the last two years than I had all my life before that, yet I only feel like I started losing weight recently, when I started paying attention to my diet. I don’t enjoy eating early in the day, so breakfast is negotiable, but the window between 2-6pm is the danger window for me. I will eat anything and everything just because I can.
- If you really listen to your body, then you’ll begin to differentiate between eating to fuel your body, eating because you can, and emotional eating. I’ve learned how my body reacts to certain foods, and can choose whether to keep them, cut them out or just reduce consumption. Like ice-cream. I eat it knowing I’ll suffer later (I’ve developed a minor lactose intolerance), so I only do it once a week now and go for less creamy, less sugary options, because I refuse to deny myself that momentary pleasure.
- A heavy meal in the evening will result in an uncomfortable night – for me and the person sleeping next to me. the other day I had what I thought was a healthy meal for dinner – mostly because I wanted to eat something and not because I was hungry really. I had such a bad bout of “the flatulence” that my husband said he’d record little voice notes at night to remind me of the little concert I played him. Like beatboxing, but with my butt and other ermm, organs. So it was more butt-boxing than beatboxing. We’ve been married over 6 years now but surely, it’s OK to keep some of the mystery alive.
- Alcohol will really mess up the eating plan. Alcohol leads to very poor food choices and must be enjoyed in moderation. Alcohol will make you demand pizza from a hotel kitchen at 11pm and fries at 3am. (Hemingways Watamu have the best pizza and fries by the way, and their staff are very gracious. Highly recommend) I’ve drastically cut down my alcohol intake so I’ll have a few glasses of wine or a few G&Ts at the weekend. I rarely drink between Monday-Friday.
- Intermittent fasting is possible and will not lead to certain death. Your food will not magically fly out the window because you’re not eating it throughout the day. One meal a day is not ideal for me, but one meal and a snack are possible, because I eat way more than you need to. I do not need 3 heavy meals and 2-3 snacks a day. Very few people do, to be honest, and it turns out I was bloated because I was eating all the damn time. Who knew. I use the Zero fasting app, which my girl Nyachomba (Kenyan Expat Mama) put me on. It’s been a game-changer and my average fasts (Monday-Friday) are now between 18-21 hours depending on the week I’ve had.
- I feel better on the days when I work out. Whether I do cardio, weights or go for a relaxed walk, being active has been good for my mental and physical health. I’ve been working out with Shiv Simani since September 2019. I used to go to Alpha Fit 3-4 times a week then COVID-19 happened, then we moved to a far, far off place, and I’ve been working out from home since April. We’re fortunate enough to have a gym within the estate but I really miss the vibe at Alpha sometimes.
- PMS is the real enemy of progress, a real traitor. I’ll be a balanced human being for 3 weeks but for 1 week I will shovel every sweet and savoury thing into my mouth. I will not die trying to be slim while my uterus wages war against me – but I cannot use it as an excuse to eat crap every single day.
- The biggest lesson of all: I’ve had a very unhealthy relationship with food, but I’m learning that food should not be a reward or a punishment. Food is there to nourish – but there’s nothing wrong with treating myself to something I’ve been craving. Denying myself ignites an obsession with the object of denial, causing me to crack and overindulge later, which then leads to a vicious cycle of guilt and shame and more denial and bingeing. Being conscious about what I eat, when I eat, and being intentional about practicing kindness to myself and stopping the negative self-talk (masked as wry self-deprecation) has been the biggest lesson.
My tummy will never be flat without the help of a talented cosmetic surgeon. I’ll probably never be a size 10UK. My arms are genetically predisposed to the “Kikuyu auntie aesthetic” and will flap when I wave. But I’m learning to love me. I’m learning to shed the unrealistic expectations I’ve placed on myself in the past. I refuse to shame myself, to talk down to my body – even as “a joke”. I have a goal I’m working towards, and while I still have a long way to go, I want to make sure that I enjoy every win (big and little) and appreciate myself at every size and weight. I want to be the uniquely me version of No Ordinary Noire, the Tantalizing Confidence Queen.
So I will continue to find joy in eating well, eating in moderation, being active and in taking mirror selfies using the angles that flatter me – the ones nobody else seems capable of employing when taking photos of me.
I’d love to know what you’ve struggled with when it comes to your body, and how you’re overcoming that. Whatever it is, I want you to know that you’re not alone.
Liked the post? Don’t forget to share it and subscribe to receive updates on the latest content each week. Now let me go dive into thpse jumbo prawns and beef sandwich calling my name from the kitchen. Tomorrow we embrace the fasting again. Today, today we listen to the PMS and her song.
The Cultured Cow