The Once-Heavy Girl’s Guide to Being Slim
At 31, when I imagined how I would feel after losing 50 pounds, I thought I’d be more carefree and confident. Instead, I was constantly tortured by low-level anxiety. I had to learn how to live in the world as a “former fat girl” by trying out new clothing styles, interacting with people who started treating me differently, and discovering new coping skills that didn’t involve fried seafood platters delivered at 10 p.m.
Several years later, I haven’t quite given up that identity. I’m still surprised when I fit into a size 6 dress. And when I look into the mirror at the fit women next to me practicing tree pose during yoga class, I’m still shocked that we’re all about the same size. But I also wrestle with the fear that the “former” could easily be deleted from my self-description. It doesn’t help reading about all those studies concluding that most dieters will eventually regain their weight. (If you’re struggling with maintaining your weight loss, read these tips in 4 Ways to Keep Off the Pounds for Good.)
Yes, I’ve gone up and down a few pounds, but I’ve generally kept it off. Here are the guidelines that have helped me:
Trust your loser ways
If you’ve lost any amount of weight, you probably know what works for you to maximize your success: Plan your meals. Make sure there’s healthy food in the house. Carry around snacks. Eat breakfast. Eat salads. Exercise.
The good news is that by repeating a healthy behavior, we eventually change our subconscious minds and develop a habit, insists David Zulberg, MD, author of The 5 Skinny Habits: How Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever. “You’ve changed your mindset, even if you’re not aware of it,” he says. “You’ve trained yourself over time to make better choices.” The take-away: Give yourself credit for everything you do right. And have confidence you’ll keep it up.
Control the damage
I don’t smoke. I don’t inject heroin. I don’t wake up in strangers’ homes after blacking out from vodka. Food is my thing. It’s what I go to when I feel stressed or upset. And no matter how many times I wish I were addicted to Pilates, food is always going to be what soothes me. This knowledge has helped me manage how much of it I consume during life’s ups and downs. If I feel like something greasy after a stressful day, I make a serving of bacon and eggs. If I want to drown my sorrows in enchiladas, I ask myself if I could try being satisfied with a veggie taco with guacamole. Most of the time, these little bargains work. By acknowledging the power of food, I’m able to control its impact in my life.
Know your triggers
Sugar is the enemy. A growing body of research claims it’s more addictive than cocaine and stimulates the brain’s same reward centers. When I eat a lot of it, I want more of it. And it takes a day or two before the cravings disappear. So I don’t eat it. (Learn how to manage your sweet tooth in how to Fight Food Cravings Without Going Crazy.)
Create a new normal
Weight is always going to fluctuate, but I’ve found it helps to establish a range of how far I’ll go. When I was heavier, I was in denial about how much weight I’d gained. Wearing yoga pants don’t help, either. So if holiday snacking put you at your upper limit, don’t go buy new clothes. Get back into your range by creating an eating plan that you know works.
Accept that you may never lose those five pounds
This is a hard one, since I have a particular red linen summer dress that I know would look really good on me if I could only lose five more pounds. I also know that I could reach this ultimate goal weight with weeks of dieting discipline. So what gives? I can easily maintain my current weight by eating reasonably well and exercising most days. I call it my “happy weight.” It’s sustainable, and it works for this former fat girl.
- By Sarah E. Richards
Fat Girl on a Plane
Cookie Vonn is fat. And while she doesn’t want her weight to rule her life, she’s interested in fashion design. And in fashion, size is everything. Her dreams of getting out of Scottsdale, attending Parsons, an elite fashion design school, and becoming a fashion designer for women of all sizes might not work out if she can’t lose the weight.
Fast forward two years. Thanks to insane self-control, and the power of NutriMin (a stand in for Weight Watchers) Cookie has lost the weight. And the opportunities do start to roll in. She’s offered the chance to meet her idol and cover his fashion show for NutriMin. Better yet, after a breakfast meeting with him, she gets an offer to design a special plus size line that will be released as a preview for his upcoming Winter/Spring Collection. But even as Cookie’s life seems to be exactly what she wanted, she finds being skinny isn’t a panacea, and that somewhere along the way, she might have lost not only the weight, but herself.
This is a great new adult coming of age novel that I ate right up. It’s not my normal fare – I typically don’t read YA romances unless the protagonist is a person of color. While Cookie is white, she is fat, and that is definitely an underrepresented group of people in most modern literature, so I decided to take a chance on this one, and I’m really glad I did. I think some overweight readers will balk at the idea of this being a Cinderella story, but that’s not what this is – a lot of the book really centers on Cookie realizing that while her weight might be part of her identity, its not what makes her Cookie, and that realization is what makes this a strong coming of age tale.
The book switches back and forth between past and present Cookie (fat and skinny), a literary device that worked well here. We know Cookie gets skinny, but we learn why and how in the “fat” chapters, and we get to learn how she reaps the fruits of her labor in the “skinny” chapters. I wanted to know what happened to both versions of Cookies, and I found myself staying up way too late one night reading this. Cookie herself is a smart, resourceful young woman, and while she makes some seriously stupid decisions, they all seem in character and are the sort of decisions an inexperienced young woman might make – especially when the adults around her were sometimes giving her awful advice. I hated both of her relationships, but they seemed pretty realistic, and hopefully young women can learn from Cookie’s mistakes. I wish she had cut both guys out of her life as they were both toxic (one of them gets off way too easily), but that is my really my only major complaint.
I really liked this one, and I think new adults and older teens who enjoy contemporary reads will as well. If you like Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella or Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, this book is definitely for you. 4 stars.
Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Teen for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Fat Girl on a Plane is available for purchase now, and you can put your copy on hold today!
This is what really happens when the ‘fat girl’ gets skinny
This article initially appeared on news.com.au and has been republished here with permission.
How much weight do the terms, skinny and fat, obese and anorexic carry for you?
For a self-described “fat girl”, these were the labels she defined herself by from a young age — and these were the labels that resulted in body dysmorphia.
As an overweight child, Blythe Baird always felt that her value was measured by her weight.
When she finally succumbed to the pressure to be thin, she developed an eating disorder. She was 14.
Blythe told news.com.au, “When I was a teenager I started struggling with restrictive disordered eating for the first time.
“It developed, partially from social expectation that fat people need to lose weight in order to be relevant. It was also born from how I was raised and just having an addictive personality with perfectionist tendencies.”
However, rather than be concerned with her rapid weight loss, the people around her offered nothing but praise for finally losing weight.
“When I lost weight after being considered the fat girl my whole life, I noticed how people were enamoured with me for the same thing that was killing me,” she said.
“When I got sick, nobody ever seemed worried. Nothing led me to believe it would be a good idea to attempt recovery. While I was starving myself, I received constant positive reinforcement in every aspect of my life.”
There is a double standard when an overweight person develops an eating disorder, opposed to when someone considered thin struggles with one.
Blythe explained: “When fat people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they have made healthy lifestyle adjustments. When skinny people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they are sick and in need of medical attention,” she said.
Frustration at this cruel double standard led her to create a short movie.
When the fat girl gets skinny
“When The Fat Girl Gets Skinny” examines how our actions and words perpetuate and encourage eating disorders.
Within the short film, Blythe explains that she became an inspiration when she lost weight.
Girls would stop her in the hallway to ask what her secret was, and the attention made her fall in love with the illness.
It also made her recovery that much harder.
While the comments were delivered with good intention, they turned out to be damaging.
“It made me feel like I would let people down and they’d be disappointed in me if I attempted recovery (or put weight back on). Their comments made ‘skinny’ become a promise I had to keep. Those reactions made me feel like it was way more important to be thin than it was to recover,” she said.
Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, said when someone overweight develops an eating disorder they’ve been pre-conditioned to believe their size isn’t right from the start. This poses a big challenge for recovery.
“When someone is bigger, it’s common for people to tell them. They make comments, suggestions on how to change their shape. As an eating disorder is neuropsychiatric, it forces changes in the neurological pathway. If changes have already occurred in their brain, they have to completely rewire their perception of body image, as well as decouple from what people are telling them,” she explained.
Blythe is quick to point out she doesn’t hold the people who praised her accountable for her illness. In her eyes, the fault lies with our image-obsessed society.
“I don’t blame them. I know most of them had the best of intentions. No one was trying to hurt me. It was just a product of society. It is a result of how our culture teaches us to marvel at and celebrate weight loss, despite how it was achieved.”
Christine agrees with Blythe’s assessment.
“It seems we are all arm chair experts when it comes to a person’s weight. We praise weight loss more than we would someone’s exam results. We admire someone who can readily lose weight, and are judgmental when someone gains it. Our society is too focused on image and that’s damaging, for everybody.”
She explained: “We are bombarded with imagery that portrays the ideal shape in Western society, which is thin for woman and ripped, with a six pack, for men. It’s almost an obsession. And this pre-conditioned notion of the ideal shape determines admiration and success in our society.”
To change this, Christine is adamant we need to stop defining ourselves by our body shape.
“Our bodies are given us to live our lives in. It is critical we separate our perception of body shape and size to a person’s inherent value. And people need to be more careful of their commentary when they praise someone for weight loss; you don’t know what is happening inside someone’s head, and at the end of the day what someone weighs is no one else’s business.”
Blythe says she’s not over her eating disorder.
“It’s been a lifelong battle. As a child I struggled with binging as well. I don’t know if there is a past tense of recovery,” she said.
“I don’t consider myself past it. Recovery is a choice I consciously make every day. I still have to put in the effort. We need to remember that skinny is not a compliment, and fat is not an insult.”
So, how much weight do the terms, skinny and fat, obese and anorexic, have for you?
Blythe Baird explores body dysmorphia
Blythe Baird explores body dysmorphia
If you need help or support for an eating disorder or body image concern, please call Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673 (ED HOPE) or e-mail [email protected]
Eat To Stay Slim! A Dozen Ways To Stay In Shape
Been struggling to shed those extra pounds for a long time? Tried all kinds of crash diets, and weight loss hacks for a slimmer figure yet no results? Let us tell you a secret! Starving was a bad idea, and you could have easily lost the extra set of inches while being well fed. Yes, you heard us! Now that we have your attention let us tell you another secret, there is no shortcut to weight loss, but eating healthy may speed up the process. Here are a dozen ways to eat well, and shed a pound or two in the process naturally.
1. Eat A Hearty Breakfast
You may have heard many say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, well its not just hearsay. Breakfast indeed plays a huge role in kick-starting our metabolism. Breakfast literally means ‘breaking’ the ‘fast’. It is the first meal you have after your eight hour sleep, hence it plays a huge role in your metabolic rate. Skipping the breakfast, may indulge you to binge more later in the day, which is a further invitation to extra kilos. Make sure your breakfast is rich in protein and fibers.
Breakfast plays a huge role in kick-starting our metabolism and aid weight loss
2. Eat A Rainbow!
Macrobiotic Nutritionist and Health Practitioner Shilpa Arora espouses the idea of having a rainbow plate. She recommends having all coloured fruits and veggies on your plate from beautiful greens such as spinach, lettuce, methi or the opulent orange in carrots. This would make sure you have all your fibres, vitamins and antioxidants in place.
Make sure you have all your essential nutrients in a rainbow diet.
3. Eat Fresh
Anything that has a shelf life of more than a few days, and especially when it comes from a bottle or a packet should be consumed with caution. Junk food made in hydrogenated and fat-laden oils are a strict no- no. These empty calorie foods even in minute quantities can show its effect around your tummy. What’s cooked at home and has a limited shelf life is healthy too.
What’s cooked at home and has a limited shelf life is healthy too.
4. Eat Good Fats
All fats don’t make you fat! Fats have gained itself an infamous rep and we are here to bust the myth. According to Shilpa, the fats you eat make up the majority of your cell walls, so a low fat or a no fat diet makes your cell wall inflexible and extremely difficult for nutrients to pass through and feed your cells. The body needs all the 3 essential macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats to survive. While it is important to cut out on ‘bad fats’, ‘good fats’ like ghee, whole eggs, coconut oil and fatty fish should become a part of your healthy- balanced diet now.
Fats have gained itself an infamous rep which is problematic
5. Eat Whole Grains over the Refined Variety
Whole grains are packed with high quality fibres. Fibre takes the longest to digest, which keeps you satiated for long and prevents you from bingeing into other fattening foods.
Fibre takes the longest to digest, which keeps you satiated
6. Eat at regular intervals
Try and reduce the intervals between each major meal and try to have 6-7 short meals everyday. When you eat less than what your body needs, your brain understands that you are low on energy reduces the speed of the fuelling cycle and your metabolism goes for a toss. Observing long gaps between the meals can drop your blood sugar which could also slow down the metabolism.
Long intervals can slow down metabolism
7. Eat lean protein
Protein plays a crucial role in muscle building and weight loss, by choosing lean variety of meat such as chicken and fish you avoid the extra fat in red meat, bacon and sausages.
Lean variety of proteins are better than the red, fatty ones
8. Eat less Salt
Greater the amount of salt, greater the risk of water retention and weight gain. Put aside that packet of chips and fries now!
Greater mount of salt would lead to greater weight gain
9. Eat Less Sugar
Excessive refined sugar is terrible for your health and piles on unnecessary calories. Also, be weary of sugar in unexpected places like cereals, tomato ketchup, packaged foods, etc. Refined sugar contributes to empty calories which results in fat accumulation.
Excessive sugar can lead to excess accumulation of weight
10. Eat in Controlled Portions
Eat everything but eat smaller portions. Have smaller plates, let not the sparse food in your large plate fool you into believing that you are having less food. Avoid second and third helpings at a party. Be smart with what you eat too, increase the portion size of the nutritious food on your plate like vegetables or dal, and cut your dessert by half.
Always be weary of your portion size to avoid excess calories
11. Eat On Time
In addition to planning your meals, it is also essential to stick to fixed meal-times. Try to eat food at the same time every day, to set your body clock in a way that the body can tell you when it is hungry and when it has had enough.
Eat on fixed time to avoid weight gain
12. Drink Plenty of water
Water carries many essential functions like flushing out the toxins and, aiding digestion, preventing constipation and maintaining the electrolyte (sodium) balance. Starting your day with a glass of warm water cleanses the digestive system, and improves your metabolism. Drinking water helps one avoid eating and drinking extra calories in the form of other high calorie beverages too.
Try these few handy tips and eat to stay slim.
About Sushmita SenguptaSharing a strong penchant for food, Sushmita loves all things good, cheesy and greasy. Her other favourite pastime activities other than discussing food includes, reading, watching movies and binge-watching TV shows.
Bofinger, in the rue de la Bastille, is the oldest brasserie in Paris, the haunt of presidents and ministers, Chiracs and chevaliers. It is also my favourite place to dine in the whole world. Bofinger is a shrine to food, staffed by mustachioed waiters in black waistcoats and white aprons, waltzing around the various rooms bearing platters of fruits de mer, wobbling crème caramels, great tureens of bouillabaisse. Bofinger is noisy and vivid, thick with the stew of soupe à l’oignon, foie gras, steak frites, choucroute, butter sauces, andouillette, sticky confit de canard, towering coupes des glaces topped with turrets of crème Chantilly.
It is also one of the best places in the world to lose weight. According to established lore and several new books (the latest is French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mirielle Guiliano), if you really want to kiss your ass goodbye, you should take a lesson from the French.
Despite a diet stuffed with cream, butter, cheese and meat, just 10 per cent of French adults are obese, compared with our 22 per cent, and America’s colossal 33 per cent. The French live longer too, and have lower death rates from coronary heart disease – in spite of those artery-clogging feasts of cholesterol and saturated fat. This curious observation, dubbed ‘the French paradox’, has baffled scientists for more than a decade. And it leaves us diet-obsessed Brits smarting.
In Chic and Slim: How Those French Women Eat all that Rich Food and Still Stay Slim, Anne Barone seeks to unravel the puzzle. As it turns out, it’s all about knickers. ‘Never underestimate the power of a black lace garter belt,’ she writes. ‘Even French women’s lingerie helps to keep them slim, a constant reminder to make choices that pay off in slimness. Their belief in this principle is demonstrated by the fact that there are almost as many lingerie shops in Paris as bakeries.’ Vanity, it seems, is a very useful vice if you want to fight the flab.
‘Forget diets,’ continues Barone. ‘They are no fun and don’t work. What I learned from French women is that ultimately staying slim is not about counting calories or fat grams. It is not about exercise exhaustion. It is really about personal style.’ True, the French women I know tend not to get too hung up on ‘dieting’; I have never witnessed a Parisienne performing the calorie or carbo calculus that bedevils so many British meals. But they do enjoy a sensible, sensuous way of eating. Just watch them, dipping mussel shells into mariniere broth at any brasserie in Saint Germain. They savour their food. They are passionate about food. They have a national heritage devoted to and founded upon food. France is, after all, the home of the great chefs, from George Auguste Escoffier to Paul Bocuse – men whose creative juices still flow through the many kitchens and cooks of the land. For them, it seems, eating is life-enriching exploit, not a chore, and certainly not a guilt-trip. Ironically, the people most likely to be ‘on a diet’ (12.8 million of us in the UK) are the least likely to be slim.
A recent survey conducted by the French government’s Committee for Health Education (CFES) found that eating is still very closely linked to a national heritage of consuming good food for pleasure. In France, 76 per cent eat meals they have prepared at home; the favourite place to eat both lunch and dinner is in the home, with 75 per cent eating at the family table. In the UK, by contrast, we like to eat our meals (a) standing up, (b) in front of Coronation Street , (c) at a desk while catching up on emails or (d) by the side of the M40.
Whereas the French typically spend two hours over lunch, we bolt down our food in the time it would take them to butter a petit pain. Nutritionist Dr Francoise L’Hermite believes that the French secret is to sit down with friends or family for a meal, and to eat three times a day at regular intervals. She points out that the French don’t eat in front of the television, and they eat slowly, enjoying both the food and the company. How very civilised.
‘For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation,’ says L’Hermite. ‘From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating.’
Dr Andrew Hill, senior lecturer in behavioural sciences at Leeds University, agrees. ‘I suspect that the French paradox has something to do with our differing core attitudes to food and eating. French food is real food – prepared in the kitchen, with time taken to choose, buy and prepare meals. In other words, there’s space for food in the daily routine.
Eating in France is a social activity. There are several but small courses, with plenty of time between courses for the physiological feedback to kick in. In England, we eat more pre-prepared foods and ready-meals; we eat fast food both in and outside the home. We have single, large meals, and family members will eat different foods at different times… Fast food is, by definition, eaten fast, so there’s no time for that physiological feedback.’
The unhurried approach to eating extends even to France’s Big Mac generation. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found ‘from observations in McDonald’s, that the French take longer to eat than Americans_ ironically, although the French eat less than Americans, they seem to eat for a longer period of time, and hence have more food experience.’
Food experience. Now there’s a phrase. Compare our ‘food experience’ to that of the French: the time that the average British family takes to prepare a meal has shrunk from two hours to 15 minutes in the past few years. And, while we are speed-eating, cramming in a Kingsize Mars before the lights turn green, the French are taking smaller mouthfuls, resting their cutlery between bites, discussing the food – often because it is worthy of discussion.
Few of us who have holidayed in Provence or weekended in Paris could dispute the fact that the French tend to aim for quality over quantity. Almost every village in the country boasts a bustling market featuring local sausages, patties of farm-made chevre, figs and fennel in the appropriate season or truffles dug from a wood down the lane. It’s not just a choice available to the moneyed middle classes, but somewhere for everyone, every day. There is a national pride in the nation’s produce and, until very recently, a typically Gallic antipathy towards imports (which is why the English still pack Heinz Baked Beans, Marmite and PG Tips when they head off on their annual gite holiday in the Dordogne).
Instead of an addiction to ‘invented foods’ full of hydrogenated oils, E numbers and preservatives, the French way, even today, focuses on the careful preparation of unprocessed foods. It’s why French women ration themselves to one rich, dark square of real chocolate rather than hogging-out on a preservative-laden, pre-frozen, half-chemical wodge of pseudo-foodo. Snobbery, alongside vanity, is an asset in the war against weight. (Consider, by contrast, the disheartening fact that the market for ready meals in the US grew by 39 per cent from 1999 to 2003; the $3 billion market for ‘food bars’ is expected to more than double by 2007.)
When they get those enviable produits du terroirs home, French people, it seems, naturally exercise strict portion control. In their study of why the French remain so much slimmer than Americans, the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania came to the remarkable conclusion that it was because the French ate less. ‘Based on observation in Paris and Philadelphia,’ they wrote, ‘we document that the French portion sizes are smaller in comparable restaurants, in the sizes of individual portions in supermarkets, individual portions specified in cookbooks, and in the prominence of “all-you-can-eat” restaurants in dining guides.’
The figures – both physically and statistically – back this up. Mean portion size in Philadelphia was about 25 per cent greater than in Paris. Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants served 72 per cent more than the Parisian ones. A supermarket soft drink in the US was 52 per cent larger, a hotdog 63 per cent larger, a carton of yoghurt 82 per cent larger.
‘A croissant in Paris is one ounce,’ notes Chris Rosenbloom, a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University, ‘while in Pittsburgh it’s two.’ America is indeed the land of giant pastries. I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer girth of a muffin I once bought at a coffee shop in New York – but, like all of the dead-eyed cows in the joint – I worked my way through it under the wayward assumption that it constituted a ‘portion’ and therefore ought to be finished. ‘If food is moderately palatable,’ says Paul Rozin, one of the psychologists on the Pennsylvania study, ‘people tend to consume what is put in front of them, and generally consume more when offered more food.’ Interestingly, hamsters do much the same thing.
As a consequence of all these mighty meals, the average calorie consumption in the United States weighs in at 3,642 a day, against 3,551 in France – a small difference, but one that can add up to a five-pound weight gain in six months.
Not only are our servings bigger, with more ‘deep fill’, ‘big eat’ and ‘mega deals’ both here and in the States, but between bucketfuls, our propensity for snacking is extraordinary. Run your eye along the snack aisle at your local supermarket and be amazed by the breadth of choice. Tandoori Doritos. Teriyaki Kettle Chips. Scotch-egg bars. Soon, you’ll be able to buy a ‘Christmas-pudding Flavoured KitKat’ (Lord knows how we coped without it). The UK snack industry is worth £9 billion a year, with speedy growth in such crazy sectors as ‘hand-held snacks’, ‘snacks on the go’ and ‘snack kits’ to service our new grazing, table-less culture.
The French, I suspect, wouldn’t let a ‘snack kit’ near their poodle, let alone near their mouth. Doctor François Baudier of the CFES reports that ‘the French, in contrast to Anglo-Saxons, hardly ever snack outside of meals’. One reason for this is that their fat-rich diet stimulates the production of cholecystokinin, a satiety signal which promotes an extended sense of satisfaction after eating even small amounts of high-fat foods. Brie-eaters stay fuller longer.
But for how much longer is debatable. Recent figures show that the French are gradually growing fatter as they absorb Anglo-Saxon eating habits. With luck, the French will fight hard to retain their national relationship with food, their affaire of the heart and the stomach. Perhaps the Academie Française should step up to the plate. In the last instance, though, it may well come down to attitude – that Chanel vanity, that snobbery, which might just save the day. As Anne Barone puts it: ‘The French woman sees herself as a beautiful woman despite her physical flaws. She is worth the effort of eating well, taking care of herself. She deserves to be slim and healthy.’ And she deserves that a whole lot more than she deserves a portion of pie.
Meanwhile, if anything, we British are beginning to crave something akin to the traditional French ‘food experience’. Look at the growth of ‘slow food’ movement; look at Nigella Lawson during the launch of her latest book, Feast : ‘I want to make people think about food and the part it plays in their lives,’ she said, ‘Food is a great record of the emotional state of our lives.’ Bringing food to the forefront of our daily routines, rather than tucking it in between all our other responsibilities, might just obviate the need for serial-dieting, binge-eating, panic-snacking and guilt-tripping. Oh, and it might just get us into a size 10 Chanel.
The Fench women’s guide to eating
Sandrine Janet, 23, researcher at Cobalt Recruitment. Lives in London.
French women never eat while they’re walking or standing, like you do here. We have no culture of snacking, and especially not on fast food. This habit is ingrained in us from a young age.
In France, every neighbourhood has its own market – the quality of food in Britain is shocking. I do not belong to a gym – I swim to keep fit (I do smoke about 10 cigarettes a day though). My friends walk or cycle to stay in shape. I have been a size eight for years. French girls also tend to drink a lot less. I have told French friends about my time at university here and they were horrified.
Cristina Lipscomb, 29, restaurant PR for Bacchus PR. Lives in London.
Because of my job I eat out at least once a day, sometimes twice, but I really don’t snack. I think the quality of food in British restaurants and supermarkets is improving slowly, but the quality of French food is better – my girlfriends in Paris can eat heavy, but very good food without putting on weight. Here, I attend a gym once a week and smoke maybe 10 cigarettes a night if I am out.
Hortense Bioy, 28, financial journalist for Mergermarket . Lives in London.
I usually eat four times a day. I never skip breakfast. For lunch I have lots of vegetables with fish or meat and then a snack at 4pm. I never eat anything fried. I might pick my friends’ chips from their plates but I would never order any myself. In France, we eat far more dairy products, yoghurt and cheese, but it’s tasty cheese so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. For a treat, I’ll have chocolate cake but made with dark chocolate so it’s not full of refined sugar. In France, we don’t drink fizzy drinks. We drink water with our meals. If we have coffee, we order an espresso, which has far fewer calories than a Starbucks cappucino. In Britain, people eat for the sake of eating. I’ve put on weight since I moved to here.
Chloe Doutre-Roussel, 38, chocolate buyer at Fortnum and Mason. Lives in London.
When I first arrived here I was very puzzled by tinned food – I still don’t understand spaghetti on toast, or why you use so much vinegar. And to me something like steak and kidney pie looks like it has been cooked using leftovers.I go to a local swimming pool here. All the women are plump, which you would never see in France. Here there is no discipline: no one listens when their body says ‘stop’.
Farida Khelfa, ex-model, now works for designers Azzedine Alaia and Jean Paul Gaultier, mother of two. Lives in Paris
I eat up to five slices of bread for breakfast. For lunch, I’ll eat salmon or sea bass with green vegetables. With that I have water (I rarely drink alcohol). At 4pm, I take tea – green tea and biscuits or dark chocolate. I eat healthy things in enormous quantities. I can eat a whole chicken for supper.
Mathilde Thomas, 32, founder of Caudalie beauty products, mother of two. Lives in Paris
I start the day with homemade yoghurt, fresh juice and fresh baguette. I drink herbal tea, and eat fish or meat for lunch. My image of a British woman is Jane Birkin, although I know that in places like Manchester you see girls who are tanned and skinny but rather vulgar. I have one cigarette after dinner – most French women smoke instead of eating.
Stephanie Giraud, 39, music producer, mother of two. Lives in Paris
If I want to lose weight I eat less cheese. I don’t like your cheese but I love French cheese. I only drink water and a little red wine. Of course French men, like all men, prefer women to be slim.
Marie Bouvier, (pictured on the cover, far right) 30, works in advertising. Lives in Paris
I never snack. When I eat, I eat: bread and butter, honey and jam, proper meals. I eat lots of fruit, and real fruit juice and I only use olive oil. I was amazed at the aisles of salty, sugary foods in UK shops.
Sylvie Kerchiched, 37, distributor for cosmetic company, mother of one. Lives in London
I start my day with an infusion. I eat yoghurt, a pain au chocolate or eggs and ham. For lunch I have fish and vegetables. For supper, I always prepare a meal. We eat at the table together – we would never dream of eating in front of the TV.
Julie Guerin, 33 works in the pharmaceutical industry. Lives in Paris
It’s no great secret why British people are often overweight. When I lived in London, the family I lodged with were addicted to frying potatoes, and the bread was of poor quality. In France, we will happily drive for 10 minutes to buy a good loaf of bread. Many British girls eat too much junk food and drink too much. I don’t think young British people know how to cook properly, so they cook quickly and eat quickly. French women don’t diet, the best way to lose weight is to have love problems!
Victoire de Castellane, late 30s, creator of Dior fine jewellery, mother of four. Lives in Paris
I love food, but I do diet. What woman doesn’t? I like old-fashioned foods and classical restaurants. I don’t go to ‘new’ restaurants. My grandfather used to take me to Paul Chêne and I still go now.
I like British food, but it’s awfully addictive. I think jelly is wonderful, it looks just like a gemstone. I was devastated when Marks and Spencer closed in Paris, I absolutely loved its mature cheddar and those little cakes with white sugar on top. But I do know that that kind of food is terribly dangerous for the figure.
Juliette Marrannes, 28, headhunter. Lives in London
In the office, I am called the carb girl. Like most French girls, I eat tons of pasta and bread. Carbohydrates don’t cause weight gain. The French just try to eat balanced meals, and in moderation. I would not go near pre-packaged sandwiches. Even if you can get a freshly prepared sandwich over here, the fillings are drowned in mayonnaise.
In my first six months in Britain, I gave lots of dinner parties. But then I stopped as I soon realised that no one appreciated the trouble they took. British people seem to love fried things. In Britain, I often see girls who are chubby and whose hair and skin is in bad condition. In central France, you might see this in agricultural communities among the men, but you wouldn’t see it in general. None of my French girlfriends look this bad. There seems to be less of a pride in oneself in the UK. This can be seen not only in your approach to diet, but also in alcohol consumption. In France, there’s no culture of going out to get drunk. I drink a lot, but never to the point where I would vomit or fall over. It is ugly and vulgar to end up in a drunken mess. The one thing that does contradict my healthy lifestyle is the fact that I smoke 20 cigarettes a day.
With thanks to Sarah Canet
When I was eight years old and in Brownies, a fat girl broke our sacred plaster toadstool. The toadstool is, as many former Sprites, Elves and Pixies can attest, important to the various rites and rituals of Browniedom. It’s hopped over, danced around and, on occasion, sat on—because, truly, what child wouldn’t want to sit on a toadstool?
The next time our unit met, we sat in a circle and watched as the toadstool-breaker carried out her punitive performance: alone and in tears, she had to pour out a new plaster toadstool in front of us. We were not allowed to help her, because she was atoning for her poor judgement. She was also atoning for her fatness. All other Brownies understood the cautionary shame and sadness as we watched her try not to spill wet plaster on the gymnasium floor. Be fat and this will happen to you, too.
This fat little Brownie from my childhood had what the writer and professor Roxane Gay so aptly calls an “unruly body”—a body that does not behave in the way society expects or wants it to behave. She has expressed this perspective before. In her 2014 essay collection, Bad Feminist, Gay discussed the ways that feminism can be messy and called up parts of her life that flout feminism’s purported rules—playing dumb around men, busting out moves to music with misogynistic lyrics. Her newest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, likewise traverses what it means to not fit into another set of parameters: the tangible dimensions of the corporeal world.
In Hunger, Gay tells us what it is like to occupy her own unruly body—one that neither conforms to, nor is accommodated by, others. She details brutal sexual violence in her childhood that made her want to seek refuge in her own form. She takes us with her into young adulthood, when she tenuously finds ways to connect with other people, carefully and cautiously. And, throughout the book, she talks about her hunger. It’s literal: the hunger to feed and nourish her body. It’s also a hunger to change, to be loved and to love; the hunger of desire, the hunger to be relieved of pain, and the hunger to be seen.
Gay, who is forty-two and has been called upon to bear the nastily-named categorization of “super-morbidly obese”, makes her experiences plain, from day-to-day concerns like ensuring places she visits will have sturdy chairs and the agony of booking flights and air travel, to the way doctors treat her and death threats routinely directed at her over social media. As she exposes her pain and hunger, she lays her body bare and shows us how it is to be a person of size in a world that hates fatness. Gay however never resigns to absolute vulnerability, and in this book she has absolute power, in control of her story and concealing and exposing information in a dance.
For so many people, becoming fat symbolizes personal disaster. It represents a loss of control, a failure of will, and a worst-case scenario. This fear of fat and fatness is hardly ill-founded phobia: the alarmist language around the “obesity epidemic”, nutrition fads, and the manifest status that emerges from keenly disciplined eating have very real consequences on who you are in the world and how you are treated. People are deeply invested in understanding how not to be fat and attributing value to the corresponding habits of the lean-bodied. In Ontario, where I live, the Healthy Menu Choices Act, instated in 2015, requires restaurants and fast food locations to list caloric information for each item being offered—but not to present a breakdown of complete nutritional information. That sends a message that the number of calories is what counts for health, reinforcing at the legislative level that fat is uniformly bad. So then, who would ever really want to be fat?
From childhood, we understand what fatness entails: it means to be undesirable, the chummy sidekick, subject to fluctuations of size and status; to be greedy, a joke. Almost all children’s movies have a fat character who is silly, loves to eat, and who may be sweet but is probably also a little stupid, or else who is wicked in their gluttony. From Dudley the Muggle to Chief Wiggum, Ursula the Sea Witch to Honey Boo Boo, the tropes range from dim-witted and cruel to vacant, and from conniving and manipulative to lovable—but subject to our pity. This summer’s blockbuster has it, too: Ned, Peter Parker’s best friend in Spider-Man: Homecoming, is adorable, intelligent, loyal, and lovable—but we understand that he will never be the hero. It’s not a fat kid’s place.
I am not a fat person. However, I am not a thin person, either. There are times when I “pass”, and I can reliably find clothes that fit me that I like without having to look for special sizes. People react to me almost uniformly with effervescent joy if they believe I have lost weight. In the company of non-fat people, especially non-fat women, I am usually the most fat. I am closest to the border; I am on the edge. This tends to instil a slightly heightened sense of awareness in everyone about me and my body, and how I fit in there. If I am one of them, what does it say about their bodies? Am I the biggest one in the room—the one who is not like the others—or are some of them more like me?
Fatness is a spectrum, which is why we turn on our own, even out-fatting each other. It’s a subtle response, but it is there. I hear it when women slimmer than me talk about being naughty for what they have eaten. “I’m being so bad this week,” one will say, popping a Timbit into her mouth. “I’m going to gain so much weight.” The dangling consequence, on the tip of my tongue is, “And then you will look like me?”. Because that is what the woman is saying, without meaning to say it to me. If her bad behaviour continues, she might—horror of horrors—end up with a body that resembles mine. “I’m so not bikini ready,” is another statement shared among women in that “bonding,” confessional way. Imagine, then, for the speaker, what the idea of me in a bikini represents? If she looked like me, it would be a nightmare.
In such moments, I have to resist portraying the “good” kind of bigger woman. By which, I mean the one who is displaying her efforts to change her body and to be healthy (here, “healthy” is code for slim). The good kind of bigger woman has her body under control; she may have generous hips, thighs and breasts, but a small waist; she is a strong, strapping, and hearty example of what your grandfather would have wanted in a woman. If I am following the same diet-and-exercise practices thinner people follow, yielding a result they would be disappointed in displaying themselves, I must somehow be doing something else wrong. I try not to fall into familiar stereotypes when I am with slim people who show their fear of fat, but it is hard. Their discomfort is exhausting. Sometimes I let myself be their milk-fed, big-boned girl. As long as I don’t break the toadstool, I am considered OK.
I am white, middle-class, employed, heterosexual, in good mental health, and surrounded by a community of like-minded friends. It’s far easier for me to live in my body than it is for anyone without these and other identifications. My experience is nowhere near as difficult as Gay’s is. And for people fatter than me, I represent the thin woman. But fatness has been a defining part of my experience. I was born not-small, the biggest member of a family of trim people. I have memories of adults commenting on my size from early on, and of many peripheral figures such as teachers, swimming coaches, babysitters and other parents trying to manage my intake of food. When I was in grade seven, a friend’s mother coined the nickname “Moose” for me (I was also tall), and while she admitted to being sloshed and in the next breath was singing along to “Janie’s Got A Gun,” I had to fight to stay cheerful and refuse the spaghetti dinner she gave us to save face.
Later, when I saw people after a semester or whole grade had passed, and I looked slimmer (less moose-like), I received more enthusiastic celebration than for a whole youth of academic accolades combined. It was a clear message and I received it everywhere I went. Everywhere I looked for examples of a different set of requirements for what “good” was, I was met with a very similar set of ideals. Trying to tame my own unruly body, and keep it that good, smaller way almost killed me over many years. Now, I am aware of how lucky I am to be in good health, though like many people, I constantly negotiate how my body fits in, and whether it will fit, period. I can’t tell what the right amount to eat is, sometimes. I have many hungers, too.
All of Gay’s work has received some criticism, as is to be expected for any serious author who is suddenly the subject of wide adoration and acclaim. I was talking to a friend about backlash we had heard about Hunger and she pointed out that no ever minded anything Gay had said so much as when she started talking about being fat. I think this distaste may have something to do with people needing to believe that fatness is due to laziness, to bad choices, or to lack of education. They need to believe that they would never be in the position that Gay is in because they know better; they are better. What is so breathtaking about Hunger is that it shows the way Gay’s body has become large, more unruly—and that the reasons for it are complex and difficult. Horrific, traumatic life events are commonplace and shockingly democratic. Yes, everyone should enjoy and be proud of their bodies, but no one person has a body that is superior to another. This is an idea that is counter-intuitive to basically everything dominant culture tells us, all the time. And so it follows that a book that illustrates this point with humanity, humour, and grace, may be a problem for some.
I started reading Hunger and, ravenous, finished it in a day. If you are someone who is fat, who knows someone who is fat, who has ever felt annoyed by someone’s big body being in your way; ever privately judged the contents of a fat person’s grocery cart, or thought you should mention someone’s weight to them; if you have had your weight mentioned to you, if someone has tried to manage your body; if you have experienced trauma and tried to protect yourself afterward, and escape; if you are scared of being fat, and of gaining weight, if you are scared to eat or feel you are judged for eating, if you are a person, as I am a person; please, read this book.
Lauren Bride is a writer living in Toronto.
‘I’m a fat girl in a thin girl’s world’
The thing is I don’t really want to. I’m really pretty happy. This week I have eaten cod and chorizo stew, smoked chicken risotto with spring onion and salad with warmed goats cheese and beetroot. I am happy and fat. The real problem is that I’m a fat girl in a thin girl’s world.
Working in the media doesn’t really help. It’s a profession where the underlying assumption is that girls are thin and want to be thin. It’s never mentioned, but that’s the expectation.
I have sat silently while females colleagues talk about not ‘being one of those women who let themselves go’ now they have a new boyfriend or being astounded that anyone could let themselves weigh 11 stone. They reel off the names of their various spinning/kickboxing/pole dancing fitness classes and I feel like the proverbial elephant in the room. I watch them eat their tiny salads for lunch with a curious mix of admiration – for their willpower; envy of their ability to wear skinny jeans; and pity, that weight matters so much to them.
I was even fatter as a child and spent my school life mostly alone, reading books and being bullied exhaustingly. It was a trip my Mum made me take to a wonderful rural nurse when I was 14 that changed everything and led to me losing five stone. At that point I was 14 ½ stone and 14-years-old. I lived my life in long, grey cardigans and Doc Martens. I was trapped in a vicious circle of eating because I was unhappy and being unhappy because I was eating.
Sue, that fantastic nurse, saved my life really. Well certainly my sanity. She taught me about where all the calories hide and how to feel full. I cut back on portions, took to chewing gum and drinking diet drinks and slowly emerged from my self imposed cocoon. This was also the time I hit puberty hard, discovered hair highlights and stopped needing to wear glasses. Looking back it must have been quite the transformation, though I had no idea at the time.
Fast forward 15 years and I’m not far off that weight I once was, but things are so different. I understand how to dress my various lumps and bumps and when properly dolled up, I know that I can look as good as girls half my size. I know I probably should hate my body – but I really don’t.
I bloody love my food though.
I eat at the weekends to celebrate that we got to a Friday and the children are safely and happily tucked up in bed. I don’t go out to eat often so whenever I do, I make sure I have a starter, a main, and a little pudding – plus a double espresso. It is at this point in proceedings that I then realise my female friends have simply had a main, and not even finished that. I know that that’s why they’re thin but I don’t wish I was them. I just feel for sorry for my pals because they missed out.
In the light of my obesity revelation will I lose weight? Yes, definitely a bit. I want to be healthier and it would be nice to wear clothes that are fashionable rather than just flattering. But will it make me any happier? Probably not. I know beautiful tiny women who are always finding fault with some part of themselves, whereas I’m not aiming for perfection. Moreover part of my weight is an extension of who I am. It’s a sort of a memento of childbearing and having lots of fun.
However, being my size does mean that there may be a few things I miss out on. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow I’ll never experience the ‘specific kind of hunger that comes with avoiding carbs’ and according to Kate Moss, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Well I’ll probably never know how women their size really feel. But guess what? I am just peachy with that and I’m struggling to feel an ounce of guilt.
Susanne Courtney works in radio and tweets here.