My body really confused me in earlier years, in fact if I’m honest I’ve only begun to understand the daily changes more recently. Women’s bodies are subject to hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, at times producing more oestrogen, and in times of stress cortisol which can cause bloating. This goes a long way to explaining what can seem to us as a humongous change in our body shape. Some females reading this article may find certain parts resonate with them, and if you are a male reader it may help explain some of the baffling things about women you struggle to understand. As a female, one day you can feel rather svelte, your skin firm, your muscles look nicely toned and your stomach flat, whereas a day or two later you can feel bloated, your skin can look dehydrated or patchy, your stomach can feel as if you’ve swallowed a grapefruit and you can see cellulite in the mirror that wasn’t there yesterday. We might declare to our boyfriends or male friends, “I’m hideous! Where did this overnight fat come from?” Unless you are dating an absolute pig, they will normally say something like, “You are imagining it, don’t worry!” These are well meaning words, but still confuse us as we know that we aren’t imagining it. We can see it’s there and know it wasn’t there yesterday. We fret over whether it will be there tomorrow and how we became this monstrous beast!
I’m writing this to tell the baffled women out there that you are not going mad, or imagining it and you are definitely not hideous! This is in fact a very normal fluctuation for a woman’s body. On Instagram there is a fantastic journalist called Danae Mercer who posts well posed (and filtered) images alongside her more natural photos to show that women naturally have all kinds of lumps and bumps. I would suggest that the difference isn’t merely down to filters and poses but also involves hormonal fluctuations.
The good news is that our hormones do follow a monthly cycle and as long as you eat healthy and exercise, these mini-phases pass fairly quickly. There are other things you can do to keep your body in better condition and probiotics should be part of your daily routine. They are known for boosting your good bacteria and boast many benefits such as protecting your heart and gut health, they can help with digestive disorders, and assist your weight loss or healthy eating plan. Good bacteria in the gut has even been linked to mental health and depression, so there is more evidence that taking a daily supplement can boost both your mental well being and your physical health. I would highly recommend reading Dr Michael Mosley’s books Clever Guts and How Not To Die. These books should be two invaluable additions to the bookshelves of anyone who cares about their health.
Fortunately, there does seem to be a little more education about healthy eating these days, although when I look at social media I can see that there is a portion of young women still turning to diet pills to achieve their body goals. It’s not a practical or sustainable option and can do more harm than good in the long term. When I was a child, the Cambridge soup diet was very popular. Then of course there was the cabbage soup diet, whereby only cabbage soup was permitted as sustenance. I would see my sisters and their friends sup these awful smelling liquids for weeks, torturing themselves only to put the weight back on as soon as the faddy diet came to an end.. These quick weight loss/fast result type diets usually came from America and promised to be life changing. Worst of all, they paved the way for these ridiculous, extreme diets to become normalised in society. Quick fixes like this caused extremely stinky bodily odours, but they were also highly dangerous leaving dieters at risk of malnutrition, brittle bone diseases and eating disorders.
Men were not immune to the promise of the quick-fix. My father tried various weight loss methods such as eating only sprouts for weeks or taking diet pills. He even passed out on one occasion after eating nothing but sprouts for three days.
Fast forward several years, the glossy magazines I read as a teenager were full of stick thin models in the 90’s. Heroin-chic was a thing and photos of dead-eyed, boney models that looked like they had been hitting the crack pipe graced the pages of Cosmo, Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Naturally, they were primped, preened and glamourised, to make it look like shooting up in the loos and living off cans of nourishment was a totally cool thing to do. I wasn’t convinced by this very questionable marketing and knew it was wrong on so many levels, but that didn’t stop me from did envying the long, dangerously thin limbs of the super models. The suggestion was there, look like this and you will make it in the world. There is no room for fatties or normal sized people in the 90’s! The media pushed this unachievable ideal and everyone was hooked on the idea. You just never heard people say things back then like, “Well actually I prefer a woman with a little more meat on their bones.” We were all under the spell of super models and the media. You’ll find the media has always found some method of injecting it’s poison and toxicity into the masses.
The adults I knew as a child tried absolutely everything to slim down, well except eating healthy portions in moderation and exercising that is! It sounds ridiculous now in 2020, but it just wasn’t an angle that was pushed by society, or the media. We were forced fed a catalogue of lies and were brainwashed by the shiny, glossy images on our screens that were faker than Katie Price’s derriere (sorry Katie!)
I grew up to feel as if the human body is a loathsome thing and that fat is disgusting, especially if it was attached to me, (other people’s weight didn’t bother me.) I discovered I was far more critical of myself than others when I discovered a psychological hack by accident. I started imaging my head on the body of other people in magazines. At first it was the tall, skinny models. Then one day out of habit I repeated this with a photo of a shorter, curvier girl. In an instant the model whom I had viewed as very attractive suddenly seemed fat now that I was imagining my head on her body. That’s when I realised how self-critical I was and that I might have a few issues surrounding my body. Realising it isn’t enough though, it takes work to reprogramme those old, unhealthy thinking patterns and adopting healthy psychological attitudes is an ongoing process. For example a little bit of bloating one day around my period might have made me feel as if I had turned into an abhorrent freak, unworthy of love.
In my twenties, prior to any of my revelations and epiphanies about self acceptance, I copied some of the preposterous attitudes towards food I had witnessed as a child. Of course, by the noughties I thought I was much smarter and knew all about vitamins, so I would take diet pills and spend hours doing step, but I’d also blend fruit juices, thinking that I would be getting all my vitamins and nutritional requirements. I thought I was more astute than my elders and that I could hack the quick fix to make it healthy. Fruit juice, another ridiculous gimmick! I’m all for a well balanced smoothie that contains good fats and Vitamin E (avocado) vitamin K (from leafy green veg) and some carbs (banana/apple/berries). However, when you juice you remove all the fibre from the fruit. This means that the sugar from the fruits goes into your bloodstream more quickly. This can cause your insulin to spike (which can lead to weight gain) and it can cause your energy levels to crash. We were not meant to drink highly volumes of fruit juice on it’s own, the fibre in the fruit helps you to absorb and release the nutrients more slowly and will also help to keep you satiated.
The only way to consistently stay healthy, is to eat a good range of whole grains and pulses, vegetables, fruits, yoghurts and lean proteins. A plant based diet is the healthiest option ( and more sustainable for the planet) although there is some argument for including fish in your diet once to twice per week. Of course, none of us are perfect and may fall off the wagon from time to time. We may eat healthy most of the time, but then fall prey to a couple of glasses of wine or a plate of chips! I must stress that there is nothing wrong with having treat days. It’s virtually impossible to follow an extreme diet that prohibits all treats 100% of the time. It’s also important that we learn to understand and listen to our bodies. This goes for men and women out there. Instead of saying to yourself:
“I’ve put on few pounds, I’m disgusting,” give your mind a healthier message to work with, such as:
“I’ve put on a few pounds. What healthy regime or foods have I been denying my body to make this happen and what can I do to reverse this? My body is precious and deserves to be given the thought and time to keep it at its optimum level.”
You can create your own healthy mantra or school of thought, but it’s a psychological shift that will help adjust your mental approach to losing or maintaining your weight and staying healthy. Instead of feeling that you must punish yourself with exercise or denying yourself your favourite foods, it’s about feeling that you are dedicating time to your body to keep it in shape. It requires thinking about all the glorious, vibrant, vitamin packed fruits and vegetables you can add in at meal times, not about what you are not allowed. We’ve been taught to think about body health the wrong way and women especially have been taught to have an uncomfortable relationship with their bodies.
As women it’s important to understand the constant changes in our bodies and how to support and accept our bodies, rather than see them as a source of unhappiness. As a species, it’s time for us all to embrace who we are, be thankful to our bodies for all the things they allow us to do and treat them with the love they deserve. Send a silent thank you to your body for all the work it does for you daily and treat it like the good friend it’s been to you.