19 April 2013

Me and food

I've never been one for dieting. Perhaps a lot of people say that but really, I haven't. And I actually hate what has happened to the word diet. Everyone has a diet; it is merely a word to describe the food you consume. But the word is now synonymous with 'fad'.

In the past, whenever I've put weight on and wanted to lose it, or have generally wanted to be healthier, I'd eat better and less, and exercise more. And I've never been one for calorie counting either because there are lots of other things you can do to be healthier and/or lose weight; it's a pretty simple equation of calories in versus calories out. For example, cycling to university/work, going to a gym class, eating more fruit and veg, drinking less alcohol, snacking less, recognising hunger as thirst, plus many more. I would always prefer to resort to a combination of the above to maintain a lifestyle that involves nice but caloric food and drink. I love food!

Which is perhaps quite interesting given my relationship with food as a youngster. Let's take a step back in time.

I was a fussy eater from the get-go and I mean a real fussy eater. But it wasn't that I didn't like fruit or vegetables so I'm not equating fussy to crap here; it wasn't all chips and chicken nuggets. My mom fed us good, home-cooked food. But most of my fussiness revolved around texture and the unknown. I didn't like raw tomatoes, they were too soggy but cooked tomatoes were fine. Oh and you know when you have baked beans with anything, it makes whatever they come into contact with soggy? I hated that and would never eat the parts that had 'touched'. I love that now! I didn't like mayonnaise or cheese. Still don't like cheese although I can manage some in/on most things e.g. pizza. But I actually see that one as a godsend as I'd probably be the size of a house if I did. I am lactose intolerant but it doesn't stop me eating ice cream and cheesecake every so often. ; )

I also had an issue with food/dishes that in my mind should be served hot; cold pasta or potato salad were a no-go. Some cold meats were a problem, too; they were just far too slimy and again, they were cold! So, sandwiches were out for me apart from jam sandwiches. I also hate to get something unexpected in my food e.g. a hard potato or bean (when they should be soft), a bone, a pip; it really puts me off my food, even now. I often have to give myself a quick pep talk to continue. I can even have enjoyed a meal and then think about it too much and make myself feel nauseous. But I know that's just weird.

Oh and I used to eat a lot of cakes and other sweet goods but not so many sweets (candy for Americans) and chocolate bars.

Perhaps I should also say I have issues with swallowing e.g. due to epiglottitis, dysphagia, Esophageal dysphagia or similar, I'm not sure exactly, and it can sometimes lead to me being mildly concerned about food consumption around others (in case I get the food stuck). As such, I can have quite a strong psychology-stimulated gag reflex. So, eating food I wasn't sure I was going to 'like' in a public setting was something I would avoid at all costs. I'm a lot better with that now but some days, you've still got no chance of convincing me. This whole paragraph is a complete overshare really.

Whilst my other siblings weren't considered as fussy as me, my sister (child #1) actually likes a lot less veg than I do e.g. peas, sweetcorn, cauliflower, broccoli stems, more. These are all staples for me! My youngest brother (child #4) also used to have quite an unhealthy diet, lots of carbs; fatty, salty, processed foods; and sweets, cakes and chocolate. So, he wasn't a big fan of fruit and veggies either. My other brother (child #3) has always had a good, healthy relationship with food. But yes I (child #2) was considered a fussy eater and it followed me everywhere, often preceding me in fact.

Just to break up the text and monotomy, and to give you something to feast your eyes on, I thought I'd now include some pictures of my siblings and I from my sister's wedding. L-R: child #'s 4, 2, 1 and 3.


Given that my family thought I was going to live a life of food depravity, they now consider me to eat quite adventurously. I love seafood and sushi, Chinese food (authentic not Westernised takeaways), most cuisines really and sandwiches with lots of different ingredients now feature often. As I'm sure you'd agree, this really isn't very adventurous at all. In fact, it's quite typical. But for them, it's still a surprise because well, it's me; fussy Jen.

When I was at school, I was quite underweight. The fussiness probably played a big role. At the age of 16, I wore a school skirt for a 12 year old and my PE skirt was the bottom half of a pinafore from my childhood that my mom took in (adjusted) to fit. I was even teased a little for the 'gap between my legs'?! Not eating breakfast in the morning (I was too nervous to eat in the mornings; a by-product of being bullied) meant that my food consumption was generally confined to a 10am-8pm window, max. I make that point in context to the focus of where this post is ultimately headed.

All this, my relationship with food, changed when I went to university and I lived in catered halls of residence. The main issues with that?
  • Breakfast was a big meal; on offer was fried English breakfast with as much toast as you wanted, plus cereal, fruit, juice and hot drinks. I never used to have ridiculous amounts, maybe a decent sized baked beans on toast and a hot chocolate at 8am but it was the first time I'd started to eat breakfast in 8 years.
  • Lunch you would grab whatever was available around the university, often quite unhealthy I suppose and not the smallest of portions.
  • Dinner would in theory be good; shepherd's pie or stews, etc, but it would be cooked en masse for lots of students and so the health factor would suffer. You could tell it was cooked with plenty of oil. There was plenty of veg but it was either under or significantly overcooked. Each dinner had a dessert and the option of a sugary drink. You could choose fruit but with a piece of chocolate fudge cake on offer, for example, it was difficult to abstain. Even now, I still get the feeling I need to finish my meal off with some form of 'dessert'.
  • Portion sizes were typically just too big. But unless it tasted absolutely terrible, you'd tend to eat most of what was put in front of you. Mainly because you were paying for it.
  • At weekends, you were left to fend for yourself. The canteen opened to sell hot food but it would usually be burger and chips or similar. The cooking facilities in the communal kitchen were minimal including a half-height fridge and a mini oven with two rings on top. All shared between 12 girls! I knew how to do a Sunday roast dinner with a variety of vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy for a family of 6 but not a decent-sized, nutritional meal for one that needed very few ingredients, little cooking effort and minimal leftover storage. Nightmare. Thus, the selection of takeaway food outlets in the vicinity were very enticing. Plus, the large supermarket just down the road offered lots of microwave meals and quick pasta. For most of the student residents, weekends were not a healthy time.
As you can probably imagine, I put weight on. Just as most students who are able to eat and drink unsupervised and uneducated would. Although, when I first went to university, I didn't drink alcohol. Having said that, the additional weight just took me up to the size of a 'normal' female my age. The other important thing that started to change was the reduction in my level of fussiness. Probably because when you're hungry, you eat what's on offer. And I probably realised it wasn't half as bad as I'd thought, maybe I even liked some of it.

I've never been dramatically overweight. The 'heaviest' I am sure of is 9st (126lbs). But I wouldn't typically weigh myself so just for the sake of argument, and to allow for some unknown values, let's say 10st (140lbs) max.. That would be considered on the upper end of normal weight for my height (~5ft 3in) and would give me a BMI of ~25. In comparison, my lightest in recent years was about 7st (98lbs) when I was 26/27 which corresponds to an underweight BMI. But I wasn't eating very much at all and exercising 2-3 evenings a week at the gym. People would say I looked 'great'. I didn't feel great and I really missed enjoying my food. : ( But personal issues will do that for you.

In summary, I've never been a big dieter and I don't think my history suggests I needed to be. I still eat quite a lot of what I want (or so I'm told). However, since starting my new job in September 2012, a desk job, I was worried about it being quite sedentary and about desk-grazing; there is a huge amount of free cake, sweets and chocolate everyday. I'm also worried about my teeth but that's another story!

So, I joined a gym. Then, I bit the bullet and reduced my daily calorie intake to 1200 and started to really count calories for the first time with MyFitnessPal. The adding of items using the Android app was quite addictive, especially using the barcode scanner. But I found whilst I would count everything, I would still often go over the 1200. Not by a lot, mind. But it really wasn't very fun and every day felt like a restriction.

Cue intermittent fasting...

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