Keep your body shaming off my commute

A lot of people are going to disagree with Sadiq Khan’s decision to ban body shaming adverts, but I think it’s pretty great. There’s a world of difference between a bikini advert which is effectively saying “look at our bikinis they’re nice you should buy one” and an advert like this which says “you have to look like this to achieve the right to wear a bikini”

beach body.PNG
I also think the TfL director’s point that “advertising on our network is unlike TV, online, and print media. Our customers cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment.” is a really good one. You can’t choose to avoid an advert like this as a way of showing your disapproval of it; it’s shoved in your face all the time. When these adverts were on, there was one opposite me on the platform of Tooting Broadway every day and to be honest, it did make me feel a bit shit.

We’ve moved on from the simplistic view that thin models cause women to have eating disorders (whoever could have imagined that eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with multiple causes!). But a relentless barrage of adverts, TV programmes, newspapers, people on social media, friends, colleagues, bosses, politicians, famous people and everyone else telling you “you’re not good enough” is real, and has a real psychological impact.

It’s hard to stay feeling confident about yourself, and your choices, when you’re constantly told they’re not good enough. I used to work in a job where everyone was on a diet. My boss was a size six and lived on cottage cheese and tuna from the can because she wanted to be thinner. Everyone was on the Dukan diet. People stared when I had pasta for lunch. I used to eat my lunch in secret so that I could avoid their stares. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t want to be thin as much as they did.

One of the most insidious trends in modern life is the idea that there is a perfect way to be, which you should be achieving, and if you’re not it somehow undervalues your other achievements. You see it with everything, and the pressure is on men and women: successful entrepreneurs have to be good looking, everyone needs a gorgeous partner, beautiful children, a lovely pug, and a perfect home to be photographed in so they can tag themselves on Instagram #blessed. And for women, underneath it all “you must be thin, above all else, in addition to everything else, and no matter what else”.

I don’t need to go in to how stupid this is as an idea – anyone with half a brain can see that being thin is not in itself something of an achievement. It doesn’t make you healthier, or stronger, or better prepared to tackle life’s challenges. It doesn’t improve your relationships with friends and family, and it doesn’t make you better at your job. And yet the pressure’s on, every day, to live up to this ideal. Adverts like this are the thin end of the wedge, but it’s not the thin end of a censorship wedge. It’s a wedge that threatens to split you open, so that you crack under pressure to be perfect. It’s to knock down your self-esteem because they know that it’s easier to sell things to people who are insecure. It’s to create a need for validation where none previously existed.

A fact I love to tell people is that women never used to face pressure to shave their legs – no one thought women’s legs were hairy enough to need shaving. But during the war, the Gilette shaving company worried that not enough men were buying razors. So they came up with the idea of marketing razors to women to shave their legs. And now every western woman feels self-conscious if their unshaven ankle might peek out of their trouser leg.

Banning a couple of adverts won’t change the world, but I like the message it sends. That advertisers will have to try a little harder for their money, that we don’t want to shame people from the walls of their daily commute, that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to just go to the beach, lie in the sun (with suncream on of course), and just chill the fuck out and be who you are.

 

Advertisements

It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message

I bought a lovely yellow blouse recently and the first time I wore it several colleagues told me it looked nice.  I told them it was from Zara, and they all remarked how much they loved Zara.  “I never normally go in,” I shrugged, “But yeah it’s great.”  They couldn’t believe it – Zara is the de rigeur choice of the fashion-conscious office worker.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  It’s the choice of the fashion-conscious office worker who is a size 12 or smaller.  Because more than 90% of Zara’s clothes are only available in sizes XS-L, and by their own website’s admission, their large falls somewhere between a 12 and a 14.  A quick scan of their website shows that of the 518 different tops on sale right now, only 19 are available in a size XXL, and only 150 in a size XL.  In store, I’ve often noticed that the coolest, most magazine hyped clothes, are only available in XS, S, and M.

IMG_3523.JPG
Here I am being far too fat and uncool for Zara and yet somehow still managing to feel happy.

In previous years, I would have ranted about this “it doesn’t make economic sense!  Where’s the capitalism in choosing to exclude half your target market? The average woman in Britain is a size 16 don’t you know?!”.  But the dark truth is that averages hide a multitude of class issues.  There’s an old adage that says that statistics is the discipline that proves the average person has one breast and one testicle, and never is that truer than when looking at size.

Sure, the average woman in the UK may be a size 16, but that size is not evenly distributed.  When I look around me in upmarket Clapham brunch spots, rooftop bars in Shoreditch, popular instagram feeds, and even at the people around me when I get off the tube in Holborn, no one is a size 16.  A toned slenderness is now the ultimate sign of status and wealth – a sign of leisure time, access to an expensive gym, the opportunity to cook and eat healthy meals.  Fat used to be a feminist issue, now it’s a class issue.  If I go home to my parents’ area, it’s a very different story.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive, gyms are expensive – it’s genuinely difficult to eat healthily on a budget, especially if you’re on a zero hours contract or working two jobs and you never know where and when you’re going to be working so you can’t prepare yourself.

When I lived in Catford, there was a headline in the local paper: “46 chicken shops in Catford and NOT ONE GYM”.  It says it all.

What Zara, and others (I’m looking at you, Urban Outfitters, Mango, & Other Stories and more…), have done may be distasteful but it reflects an economic reality that bleating about statistics hides.  Being fat is associated with being poor, and not with aspiration.  They are selling an aspirational image – they want to be seen on the backs of girls brunching in Clapham and dancing in Peckham.  They don’t want to be associated with mere mortals who might have a spare tyre around their waist and might *gasp* be wearing their clothes in such undesirable areas as Catford – let alone somewhere outside of a chi chi urban destination.  They feel that if they were, their cooler, richer customers might no longer wish to be associated with their brand.  It’s like charities who reject donations from noted racists, knowing the good PR they receive will ultimately be better than the money.  “Fat” women are the noted racists in this miserable equation.

There will be some people who think this is a good thing.  That fat people should feel pressured into losing weight.  That being a size 16 is in some way immoral.  That the best clothes should be reserved for the people who look the “best”.  This is bullshit on a variety of levels.  For a start, for a 5’2″ person to be a size 12 is very different from a 5’10” person.  For another thing, if a person has struggled with eating disorders, or is on certain medications, it could be healthier for them to hover at around a size 14-16 than to risk their mental or physical health trying to become a socially approved 10 or 12.  People also carry weight differently – before I gained weight while working in a desk job, I was tiny on my bottom half and slipped easily into Zara sizing.  But I’ve always had broad shoulders, a long back, and large breasts.  I couldn’t be a size 10 up top without major surgery – far too high a cost for fashion.

Of course, Zara knows all these arguments, and so do all the fashion brands that choose to market exclusively to them.  They’ve just decided not to care.  It’s hard to know if body acceptance movements will bring about a change in their opinions or if they’ll stick to their ways.  Either way, it brings a bitter taste to my mouth to know that it’s more economically profitable to judge half your potential customers as a low class liability than it is to cater to all who might want to buy your products.

 

Divine Decadence, Darling

I’m not sure when my love affair with nail polish began.  Maybe it was watching Sally Bowles’ glittering talons in Cabaret, decadent even in the poverty and deprivation of Berlin in the 30s.  Or maybe it was because painted nails were banned at school, and there’s always frisson in the forbidden.  Regardless, for me nail polish was love at first sight.  And since I left my strict school at 16, I honestly don’t think there’s been a single day when I’ve left the house without nail polish on.  And any time friends visit my house, the box is soon lifted off the shelf and “nail polish night” begins.

SAM_2367.JPG
My collection, a couple of years ago.  It’s grown since.

It’s gone from a symbol of teenage rebellion to an elaborate ritual, and I think the ritual is half the fun.  Cleaning off the old polish, trimming and shaping the nail, preparing the surface with a base coat, choosing an appropriately stylish colour, and finally adding a quick dry top coat.  Sometimes I go around the edges with a make up brush dipped in nail polish remover to get the splashes off, or just peel them off in the shower the next morning.  Either way, it takes about 45 minutes, and it’s some of the only time in the week that I sit still and take a moment to reflect.  Sure, I could do that without nail polish – but I don’t think I would.  In our busy modern world it feels unbelievably indulgent to spend 45 minutes doing effectively nothing once every five days.  But that’s part of the joy of it.

IMG_0010.JPG
Christmas nails

Nail polish is completely pointless, like make up I suppose.  But while make up tends to be done at the beginning of the day or before the night out, nail polish is best done at the end of the day, before bed.  It can be a time of reflection, a time to look back over the day, a time to be still and quiet.  It’s always the same process, and yet it’s always different.  Every week brings a new colour, a new style.

Unfortunately, having waxed lyrical about how wonderful nail polish is, it’s also become a problem for me. I can’t fail to notice how thin and flaky my nails have become, how easily they split, and how often when the nail polish chips it takes a sliver of nail with it.  They aren’t glamorous talons any more, they’re ever shrinking stubs.  So I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that I need to take some time out from my ritual of glamour and let my naked nails see the sun for a few weeks in the hope that it will tempt them back to strength.  It’s going to be funny going out without my armour.

It’s going to be even stranger living without my ritual.  I shall have to think of some new stress-busting evening activities.  Any recommendations gladly accepted.  In the meantime, RIP nails, and may you grow stronger soon.

IMG_7217
smashed up current nails – to be improved

 

All girls’ school? All girls can.

bella at school
the author as a young woman

Every few months some fool (usually male) comes along and claims that women who attend all girls’ schools are disadvantaged because they grow up unable to talk to men.  

Well, I’m here to say that it’s the exact opposite.  Women who go to all girls’ schools are far better placed to take on the sexist bullshit of men than those who attend mixed schools. 

Why?  It’s not rocket science.  We all hear constantly that women are told they “shouldn’t do” science/ maths/ anything else with good earnings potential.  And so they don’t study it and the cycle continues.  But at an all girls’ school, there aren’t any boys to take maths, so there you are, dominating like the boss bitch you are, never hearing the sexist lie that you need to sit down and shut up so men can talk. 

You also get the girl power assemblies, the feminist teachers, and the free space to be your girliest self without having to worry what boys think.  I can’t imagine a situation at a mixed school where a girl walks into maths and announces she’s just started her period and all the other girls clap and crowd round her, as happened in a year nine maths class I attended. 

Because yes, I attended an all girls’ school.  An all girls’ grammar school, in fact.  And I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in and got bullied at times and I still think it was the making of me (and not in an upper class suffering-builds-character kind of way).  My all girls’ school taught me that all girls can. 

And so when I left at the age of 16 to attend the local mixed grammar school for sixth form (for non boy-related reasons – my A level combinations wouldn’t work at the first school) it was a hell of a shock to the system.  Not because there were boys, oh no, shocking as it may seem to some headteachers, girls at all girls’ schools can actually meet boys outside of school.  I had plenty of male friends, a brother, a boyfriend, a father… the difference was that for the first time, I had to contend with a male dominated environment and the classic stereotype that women’s voices aren’t worth listening to.  In my economics class there were 31 pupils, five of whom were girls.  You can be sure the other 26 boys hadn’t been listening to feminist assemblies for the last five years.

For the first time in my life I had to fight to have my voice listened to, and my core belief – that I was worth being listened to, and that no man deserved more airtime than me just because he had a Y chromosome, helped me overcome my nerves and speak up. 

It also carried me through my university tutorials, which were filled with posh boys, a double whammy of class and gender for little impoverished intellectual me.  

But most of all, it helped me at work.  I work in PR, and it’s fast paced and challenging.  It’s important to hear a variety of opinions so that you don’t end up pushing a story with a fatal flaw in it.  Sometimes you’ll be the only person who’s thought of that particular angle and you need to voice it, because your mistake could end up on the front page of the Evening Standard and wreck your company’s reputation. 

In my old PR job, I worked in financial services in a male dominated environment, and as both the youngest and the least experienced member of the team it was tough learning to speak up, but remembering that old lesson from school always helped.  And having had five years of feminist assemblies about women who could had got deep into my bones and toughened me up.  Another aspect of working in PR is that 90% of everything you do will fail, and most of your days will contain rejection.  Remembering that your voice is valuable and that you have something to say is crucial when all day journalists are hanging up the phone and telling you that you don’t. 

Now I work in the charity sector, and I can’t believe how different it is from the alpha male finance sector.  I’m so used to having to slap people down to be heard at all amid all the alpha male posturing that it’s strange realising that I could be the one talking too much and sharing opinions too strongly.  It’s an exciting new feminist challenge – trying to create a space for other women to speak.  Not everyone is a natural motormouth like me, and not everyone had five years of feminist cheering to back them up.  I carved out a space for my own voice – now how do I help others find their own? 

How much have I no need of?

20140830_114418
Stuff, about to be carted to a new house

I have a complicated relationship with stuff. Like the child of alcoholics, who feels isolated from her family when sober and terrified by the future when drinking, I proclaim constantly that I have too much stuff – and then I buy more.

Owning too much is a condition of western society in the twenty first century. The proliferation of big yellow self-storage units in every town and city in the country isn’t just because people are living in rabbit hutch little new build houses. It’s also because we have too much stuff. Almost everybody does, rich or poor or anywhere in between. But my family has more stuff than most people with too much stuff.

I would say that around half my family members could legitimately be considered hoarders. The other half are borderline cases. We aren’t rich, we just can’t get rid of things. When I was at my parents’ house recently, we were trying to do a little bit of a clear out. I found a shoe box on a shelf. It was filled with empty guitar string packets. I suggested that it could be thrown out. “No!” My mum said, “Those belong to Ben and he wanted to keep them.” Ben has emigrated to Canada and its unlikely to come back in the next few years. I don’t know whether this story reflects worse on him or my mother but the truth is that if those string packets didn’t go to Canada, they are unlikely to be needed on his return. A slightly odd neighbour of ours once left the core of her apple in my sister’s room. It wasn’t found for months. My aunt and uncle keep back editions of the Guardian weekend magazine, despite the fact that it is available in full for free on the Guardian website. I could list a hundred other examples, all of them worse.

Against this backdrop, I have become a slightly manic advocate of throwing things away. When I moved out of my shared flat and into my parents’ house for three months last summer, my return triggered a manic drive to get rid of as much stuff as I could. I piled up books I didn’t like, clothes I didn’t fit, and things I didn’t want. It was like getting blood from a stone just getting my parents to take them to the charity shop. (for those who want to know why I didn’t just do it myself – I don’t own a car. A mile and a half is a long way to walk with a sack of books…) I didn’t need “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying” when it swept the nation last year, that’s been my rallying cry for years.

Following my de-cluttering binge in the summer, I have felt better about the amount of stuff I own. It helps that I now have a nice big bedroom in my new house – realistically the most space I will probably have to myself for a couple of decades, as my next move will likely be with my boyfriend, and we will have to learn to share our space and combine our stuff. I haven’t missed anything I’ve got rid of, and I don’t feel like I’ve been heartless and given away everything of meaning, as I am so often told. I have a box under my bed full of personal things from little trolls with neon hair that my aunt gave me as a child, love notes written by an older man when I worked at a garden centre in my teens (don’t worry mum – it extended to one hand holding session before I was distracted by a boy my own age), photographs of college balls, wristbands from teenage gigs, and the other pieces of junk that hold meaning for individuals. I have a box of letters and cards, some of which I will treasure for ever, and I have a box of Important Documents, because I am a real adult now, which means I am at least 10% sensible.

De-cluttering, therefore, has worked. Only, why did I need to de-clutter so much in the first place? It wasn’t by magic, or osmosis, or voodoo that I ended up with so much stuff. I bought it. Almost all of it, bar a few presents. I bought it, and then I felt bad that I had bought it, and gave it away, and then after a while I felt better, and then I bought some more. It was an unending circle. When I was a child, I bought a lot of tat – china dolphins from seaside shops, little mood rings from Camden market, tie-dyed rugs from choir tours (it was a dark time in my life), and all sorts of other rubbish. But buying tat is an obvious waste of money. It makes you feel the amount of junk you are accumulating and feel bad about it. So after a while, it slowly shifted and I started buying the one thing that you definitely do need and can’t deny: clothes.

I buy clothes like other people buy drugs: guiltily, and often in the middle of the night. I log onto ASOS after a long day, and end up buying five or six different “wardrobe essentials” which in the cold light of day I’m not sure about and which I end up only wearing once. I have two jumpsuits, despite the fact that I have a long back and a high waist so jumpsuits give me dreadful camel toe. I have umpteen pairs of vintage shoes which fall apart after two wears. I had at my worst peak six different but almost identical grey sweaters. I have two sequinned t-shirts, a sequinned skirt, and I almost bought myself a sequin blazer in the sales before I woke up and gave myself a talking to. I work for a local authority; I don’t live a sequin blazer life.

Some people reading this will think “who cares, it’s your money, do what you like”. The problem is it’s not my money. It’s the bank’s money. I have a decently paid job, relatively low expenses and few responsibilities. This is the time of my life in which I should be saving. Instead, I’m guiltily paying back my credit card, month by painful month. And I didn’t spend that money on fabulous trips to the other side of the world, or a car, or a masters. I spent it in Topshop, H&M, ASOS, & Other Stories, Zara, Office, Schuh, Primark, Marks & Spencers, Dune, Banana Republic, Gap, and Urban Outfitters. Endless forgettable outfits. I see a sale and feel a compulsive need to pick up a bargain, even if actually that bargain is extremely tight and without a serious Regime, I’ve got no hope of fitting into it. (and I never go on serious Regimes).

It’s a psychological crutch, I guess. Just like drugs. Some people face down the fear of a party where they won’t know anyone by doing a few lines in the bathroom of the club. I face it down with one-day ASOS Premier delivery, knowing that I will have something new, something exciting to wear every time I go out. I’ve got into the habit of buying something new for every party, every big night out, every job interview, every foreign holiday (“I’ll re-wear it with a fine sweater underneath” – only I never do). And there is no reason. My favourite dresses are without a doubt the ones I’ve saved up for, agonised over, bought rationally, and worn again and again. My favourite shoes are a pair of black Nike trainers – not the metallic green heels I’ve worn a total of five times but which are already flaking because hey, metallic green leather is not hard wearing! But having something new, something the papers, instagram, celebrities, the internet, and my cooler friends have told me is good, is cool, and has cachet, that saves me from having to worry about whether I have any value. Whether I am cool. Whether I am worth it, outside of the things I own.

And it’s ridiculous. When I was a student, I bought a strapless black dress for £30 in H&M. I wore it on every single night out for over a year (so that’s twice a week, ten weeks a term, three terms a year… 60 times. Minimum). I looked amazing in it, and I felt amazing in it, and I don’t think I ever paid for a single drink while wearing it. When along the road did I lose the ability to stop caring about whether or not I’ve worn something before? I don’t know, and I miss it.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m not buying any clothes for four months. From now until the first of May, I will not buy any clothes at all. (Disclaimer: underwear doesn’t count, a lady needs ladder-free tights if she is to be taken seriously in a professional environment!). I have enough clothes that I don’t need to buy anything new. I have ballgowns, and summer dresses, and coats, and jeans, and suits, and blouses, and everything else that I might need for any situation I might find myself in. I even have clothes for yoga – and I don’t even go to yoga!

The aim of this exercise is to break the cycle. To stop feeling like I need something new all the time. To get out of this meaningless consumption, and to start over. At the end, hopefully I will be less broke, but hopefully I will also be free of this need to buy something new. I had a badge at university which said “How much have I no need of?” (I was given it at a philosophy event, obviously). I lost it at some point and I won’t be buying myself another one, but that will be my mantra. How much have I no need of? How much do I already have?

All the small things

As houses get smaller, people move more often, and cynicism about advertising grows, companies try and find new ways to sell things.

It’s all about quality, not quantity.  It’s about expressing your true self.  It’s about leaving a legacy (those awful Patek Phillipe adverts about how you never really own their watch, merely look after it for the next generation).  It’s all about an experience now – so to show someone you love them, pay an extraordinary amount of money for something you have been told is a meaningful experience.

These meaningful experiences are always the same.  Paintballing, a hot air balloon ride, skydiving (particularly pernicious when presented as a charitable activity); or if you’re overseas, an elephant ride, an ostrich ride.  You can map changes in the latest experience trends by swiping through Tinder profile pictures.  Everyone’s ridden the same elephant, stroked the same tiger, and visited the same temple.

But if everyone has bought the same experiences, and had the same spiritual revelations in the same time, and the same place, do they really have meaning any more?  We are used to seeing the phrase “the world is a book, and the person who does not travel reads only one page” plastered across inspirational pinterests and instagrams, but if in every place you just look for other Brits to get drunk with in slightly more exotic bars, follow guidebook recommendations of which places to “hit” and use the same instagram filters as everyone else did, what have you done that’s unique?

IMG_3618.JPG
Pretty sure everyone who’s ever flown has a photo like this

Now that travel is more affordable and exotic experiences are the price of entry to the aspirational middle class, I think we focus too much on the need for our experience to be wild, and far-flung, and expensive.  There are beautiful lakes and mountains in Wales, but if you want your holiday to be envy inducing, to prove your cultural credibility, you need to visit mountains and lakes in Canada or New Zealand.  There’s nothing wrong with Canada or New Zealand – I for one am very excited to visit Canada next year to see my émigré brother – but neither are Wales and the Lake District less valid places to visit because you don’t get a stamp on your passport.

In the same way that Americans view Paris as a destination of chic, European luxury and romance, and we view it as a place for school trips, day trips, and dirty weekends early in our relationships, it’s important to remember that places close to home are someone’s far flung dream.

It’s also important to remember that an experience doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful – and that it can’t be meaningful if it was.  There’s a hierarchy around experiences which sees people either rate them as better because they were more expensive, or snub anything that costs money in a reverse snobbery.  “oh, the Empire State Building is so overrated,” they will say, “This other place no one’s ever heard of is so much better.”  And maybe they’re right, and if you go back to New York a second time, you should check out the other place.  But growing up everyone sees New York in a thousand films, and going to the Empire State Building is one of the things that makes you feel like you’re there.  Finally, after all this time.

When I visited New York, I thought it was amazing.  It was an incredible experience.  And the Empire State Building was breathtaking.  The fact that all the buildings really did have fire escapes just like in Friends delighted me.  And as holidays go, it was pretty much the best.

But when I think back over the most meaningful experiences of the year, I will remember the unwavering love as my parents drove 15 miles from their house to mine (in London traffic) to drive me to hospital, stayed with me all night without complaining, then drove me home and afterwards drove back to their house to go to work in an hour’s time.   I think of the hottest day of the year, and plunging into the freezing cold lido with my boyfriend and my best friend.  I think of the first time I sat on the couch and the cat kneaded my stomach (after almost a year of not even being able to stroke her).  I think of leaving a warehouse party with a group of friends and being transfixed by the sight of Venus hanging low in the sky over the towpath.  I think of sitting at the bar in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Berlin and overpaying for incredible cocktails while pretending to be characters from a novel.  I think of being perched on a barrel at an Irish pub in Cannes skipping out on all the glamorous parties to watch middle aged men singing “gold” and falling off-stage.

IMG_4544
I see this view everyday; how many people dream of visiting London?

The big moments in life are beautiful.  The long-awaited experiences are spectacular.  Sometimes saving all your money for that one big thing is really, truly worth it.  But if yours has been a year of small and wonderful moments, of weekends in Leeds to visit friends rather than fortnights in Sri Lanka, of painting your house at weekends rather than painting the town red, then savour those moments.  Far more of life is built from small miracles than from life changing revelations.

FODMAPs week eight: the diet is done!

Apologies for not posting last week, but unfortunately I have just moved house and my new house has no internet! I am typing this from my iPad and really hoping it will work…

So, the diet is done. Eight weeks of abnegation and being “awkward food lady” are finally up and what have I learned?

Well, to start with: the diet works. I haven’t had a single one of the crippling stomach aches which were plaguing me before I started the diet in the last eight weeks. This is obviously good news, although sticking to the diet religiously in the long term is considered by dieticians to be too unhealthy to contemplate, something for all budding orthorexics out there to consider carefully.

When I began the diet, I’d never heard of it, but in the last eight weeks I’ve read two think pieces about modern dieting crazes which both mentione it.  It seems that people are taking up the FODMAP plan without seeing a registered dietician (a nutritionist who talks a lot about toxins does NOT count!) and are continuing it relatively long term.  As someone who has gone through the plan, this shows me the sad state of our eating habits today. It’s true that far too many people are unhealthy, obese, and miserable in their eating habits. But the flip side of this is that far too many people are unhealthy, obsessed, and miserable in their pursuit of healthy eating, cutting out gluten, sugar, dairy, whatever the latest thing is.  One of the other things I’ve learned from this diet is that you can’t be “everything in moderation” combined with a moderately active lifestyle.

Another thing I’ve learned is that we’re all little miss special diet these days – even the men. The number of people I heard explaining that they were allergic to non organic wine, or that they had to eat paleo beggared belief.  In a way, it’s helpful, because it raises awareness that not everyone can just eat anything, and I think people are more aware of genuine digestive problems like IBS or coeliac disease, but it also makes it harder.  People faking it don’t get sick when they eat traces of gluten because they’re not really sensitive to gluten, they’re sensitive to stuffing their faces with carbs all day (seriously, I’ve halved the carbs in my diet and they don’t bother me now). This makes it harder for people with coeliac disease to be taken seriously, because waiters mistake them for attention seekers. Hopefully in time the attention seekers will move on, leaving a better range of gluten free products, and coeliac sufferers will be able to reap the benefits. M

The other big thing I learned was not to be so afraid. A couple of times during the diet I did have to ask if we could switch restaurant because I couldn’t eat anything at the proposed restaurant but you know what? No one said no!  I was so convinced I would miss out entirely on seeing my friends, or even that I might lose friends who couldn’t understand. That absolutely wasn’t the case. My mum may have had difficulty understanding the diet but all my friends were extremely supportive.

The final thing I learned was of course which foods were troublesome to me, and it’s a surprising list: beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, red onions, diet coke and regular coke, rum, and cider. I’ve also really lost my taste for sweet things, which was happening anyway.  I also learned that you won’t lose weight on this diet, unless you exclude dairy and alcohol as well. Since I finished the diet I’ve been eating more healthily than when I was on it, and I’ve lost the weight that I gained on the diet. But this diet is a diet for health, not for weight loss.

So so there we have it! If you thi you have IBS I would strongly urge you to go to your doctor and discuss it with them.  Cutting out large food groups can leave you vitamin deficient, and can be a sign of compulsive behaviour and eating disorders.