by Guest contributor Natasha Devon
A few weeks ago, my Mum and I were enjoying our ‘pouring over magazines containing garments far too expensive for us to buy and creating a wish list whilst drinking wine’ ritual, when a friend came bounding into the kitchen, full of the vigour only the misguided belief that you have just discovered something Earth-shattering can bring.
“So” she said, breathlessly “I have found this AMAZING diet”.
Somewhat disgruntled at having our attention torn away from the important business of our Fantasy Wardrobe, we humoured her by looking at her with our eyebrows raised. She then proceeded to explain in what was, if I’m completely honest, dull-making detail the process by which she prepared her evening meal.
“What you do, right, is you get a piece of protein the size of your fist and then, depending on what the protein is, you match it with it’s appropriate low GI carb and two types of vegetable, which allows your body to process blah blah BLAH” (I started to drift off at this point).
When she’d finished, my Mum said
“so…..meat and two veg, then? REVOLUTIONARY”.
I mention this for two reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate one of the many ways in which my mother is, in my opinion, the most formidably awesome woman on the planet. Secondly, it’s a perfect example of how we have over-complicated something which should really be quite straight forward and instinctual i.e. eating.
Open any one of those identikit weekly celeb-gossip rags at this time of year and you’re guaranteed to find a diet or exercise plan promising significant weight loss over a short period of time. They’ll beseech you to eat according to your blood type, pretend you’re a cave-person/monkey/cartoon, exclude or exclusively eat foods of a certain colour or abstain from eating at certain times of day. They’ll also place unnecessary emphasis on how much food weighs and how many calories it contains in the vain hope of giving the appearance of some sort of scientific basis.
The deluge of diet advice in January, lest we forget, follows a season in which we are bombarded with imagery which fetishizes food and encourages us to stuff as much of it as we possibly can into our unsuspecting gullets in the name of celebration. We first glorify gluttony, then condemn it in an elaborate demonstration of all the worst excesses of our Bulimic Society, which on the one hand thrusts highly processed, addictive, high-fat-, high-sugar foods into our eye line at every possible opportunity, then exposes us to ridicule and humiliation if we dare to become overweight as a result.
If you Google my name, you’ll discover that the most often searched term in relation to it is ‘weight loss’. It seems that despite me not having spoken publicly about it, the shrinking of my body by two dress sizes in as many years has intrigued the public. My weight loss was gradual and barely perceptible to people who saw me regularly. It wasn’t deliberate and it certainly wasn’t achieved by any sort of ‘miracle’ quick-fix.
Despite daily committing the cardinal sin of having a BMI of 26.5 (thus forever doomed to remain within the Siberia of the chart’s ‘overweight’ section and be told by medical professionals that any sort of ill-health that may befall me is entirely my own fault) my body is now exactly as it should be. The size I am now is the one I have been for the vast majority of my adult life. During my first forays into television, two years ago however, I was noticeably larger. There are some people who look magnificent and entirely healthy at the size I was back then. I, sadly, did not – something I have only recognised in retrospect, looking back at photos of a bloated person who didn’t seem to fit their own skin.
Two years ago was also, incidentally, when I underwent a dramatic near-death experience, the details of which I won’t bore you with, but which necessitated a stint in hospital and a month of fairly intense rehabilitation at home. At the grand age of 31, I had the realisation that I might not, in fact, live forever.
My weight gain had been a result of the fact that I had been establishing a thriving business single- handedly, dashing about the UK without time to exercise or prepare nutritious meals and frequently surviving on only 4 hours’ sleep in a hotel whose location I had forgotten. I had no work/life balance, something which was made bearable only by ‘treating’ myself to dinners in restaurants or room service. I overate to distract myself from the fact that I was arriving home to a tiny room in a shared flat in one of the most ‘boho yup yup’ parts of London, to be screamed at by a completely unpredictable then-flatmate, having just spent eight hours on a train.
Although there is no medical explanation for what happened to me in February 2013, I’m beginning to suspect it was simply my body’s way of telling me it couldn’t cope and forcing me to slow down. It was demanding I listen to it.
After convalescing, I started to live differently. I took on a team to share my work load. I happened to meet the love of my life (HANDY) and moved in with him, making time simply to enjoy being alive. I rediscovered my love of cooking. I joined a gym and reignited a long-forgotten passion for running. Most importantly of all, I began to feel ‘present’. I realised that I’d been having a lengthy out-of- body experience, something which was thrown into contrast now that my mind and body were operating as one. And yes, I did begin making what I suppose are technically ‘healthier’ choices, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. Never at any stage did I put myself ‘on a diet’ and at no point was weight-loss my goal.
It isn’t particularly exciting or glamorous, but the only way to achieve long-term health (with any resultant weight-loss being irrelevant, or a bonus) is slowly. My advice? Tune into your internal voice, learn to distinguish genuine and emotional hunger and then trust your body enough to eat whatever the f*ck you fancy.
Natasha Devon is a writer, campaigner & television pundit. She is founder of the multi award- winning Self Esteem Team & creator of the Body Gossip Education Programme, both working in schools to help teenagers, their parents and teachers with mental health & body image issues. Natasha writes regularly for the Independent, the Telegraph and has a column in Cosmopolitan Magazine Natasha Devon’s Confidence Revolution. She appears on Sky News, BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning as an expert on education and body image. She was also one of Gok Wan’s team of experts for the Channel 4 show Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth. Natasha was named a Mental Health Association ‘Hero’ and Cosmopolitan’s ‘Ultimate Woman of the Year’ in 2012 and one of Ernst & Young’s top 50 Social Entrepreneurs in 2013. In 2014, The Self- Esteem Team won a government-affiliated Body Confidence Award.
Natasha’s book Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents & Teachers on Mental Health & Self-Esteem is out now, available in Waterstones, Amazon & independent retailers. You can order a signed copy here.