Any regular readers of BHT will know that I’ve been on a weight loss kick since last September and so far, I’ve done pretty well. Since then I’ve lost a stone and five pounds. Over the months a few people have asked me about how I did it, what kind of diet I used and do I have any advice for them. I’m always reluctant to say anything- I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what will work for other people. I’m also coming from a place where I spent years hating my body quite intensely and comfort eating to an alarming degree. A lot of the people who asked me about weight loss were also not overweight themselves, which really changes the game. The difference between losing a stone when you’re already 3 stone too heavy is very different to dropping nine pounds from the upper threshold of a healthy weight. I didn’t really diet so much as I started weight watchers, which is cool because it’s more about monitoring how much you eat and the quality of that amount- basically what a diet should be with no gimmicks. That idea of ‘not eating like you’re preparing to hibernate’ served me pretty well, and then I started exercising, which has got me going again.
I’ve become aware of the fact that once you start losing weight, it does become a sort of personal challenge, and I’ve begun to beat myself up a lot when I don’t lose anything for a few weeks. Not out of anger at how I look (I look and feel fantastic overall compared to a year ago when I’d just eat another bag of crisps and cry) but because not losing makes me think I’ve started ‘slipping back’ on my good habits and that I’ve done something wrong. I think I’ve discovered the root of my problem- the fucking Bathroom scales.
owning the number
We recently got a lot of work done in the house and part of the work was a shiny new bathroom with shiny new tiles and a shiny new bathroom scales. We’ve never had a scales in the house before; as a teenager I’d weigh myself at my grandmothers on her absolutely flawless set of scales from 1980 but because that wasn’t a regular thing I wasn’t able to put the number on the scale into context. Until I was 17 I didn’t know what my healthy weight ought to be. I just had the vague knowledge that I was some degree of ‘fat’ and lived with it. When I started weight watchers I got used to being weighed once a week. Being weighed once a week is brilliant. It’s just long enough to keep a watch on it but also not so long that you can do any serious damage. I’ve never gone up by more than 4 pounds in one week before I brought it back down. But then we got the scales in the house.
It started that I’d just ‘check it’ on a Sunday to make sure I was keeping on track to losing that week. Then it was every time I had a shower. Then it was every morning. The scales became a daily habit, something to tick off having done. Since we got them in February, I haven’t lost any weight. I just go up and down around the figure of 13 stone. And every single day the needle would stay on that number and madden me. I began to get very depressed. Even my dad noticed, which means it must have been bad. I started skipping meals and fasting, which is just fucking stupid. it was my dad who actually had the quote that snapped me out of the mindset- ‘Up a pound or down a pound, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter- you’re still alive you know!’
I finally understand what people meant when they cautioned me not to get obsessed with my weight. Having a scales there every day in open view is a nightmare, because weighing in every day is pointless- having a cup of tea can add on a pound, peeing can take it off again – at least when it’s once a week you can take that number away and work on it. So no more daily weigh ins and no more depression sessions about it. The amount of frustration and reduction that number creates is frightening- no matter how fit or good you feel that day, it still marks you down as ‘fat’. Not fun. See I like the Weight Watchers model- I know it sounds strange, going in to get weighed. It does *sound* very judge-y, but I’ve always found it to be a very positive way of keeping a handle on things. The person running the class is usually someone who has successfully lost weight themselves (personally, my local weight watchers leader is HILARZ) and it’s always framed in a very positive manner. Obviously not for everyone and at a tenner a week, not the sort of thing everyone can afford, but I’ve found it useful.
So yeah, fuck bathroom scales, fuck daily weigh ins and fuck that level of body monitoring. It’s scary how easy it is to fall into that habit and how natural it feels- even now, I have the itch to go and check my weight even though I was weighed AT 6PM THIS EVENING. It’s scary. My only advice to anyone trying to lose weight is this- only weigh yourself once a week. And do it in the morning or just before you go to bed. And do a big poo before you get on the scales.
One thing that has become clear to me is that eating a healthy diet, avoiding fast food and just generally trying to moderate my comfort eating has taken me as far as I can go with this whole journey. I still feel quite doughy and unfit, while having this lighter, more mobile body that I can put to use. So I tried running for a bit which was a disaster. I’m just still too darn heavy and my knees were bearing the brunt of that. Swimming is a lot of fun but it’s a pain getting out to my pool now so instead I managed to get what I’ve been hankering after for a while- a brand new bicycle.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a shop that stocked Penny farthings (Actually that was fortunate because they’re actually really hard to ride). It had to fit two important criteria
1- sturdy enough to cope with moderately long cycles
2- girly enough so that my brothers wouldn’t ever be inclined to ‘borrow’ it.
The second criteria ruled out anything like a racer and my childhood of bounding around on a series of rusty mountain bikes has left me with a bias against them. I finally found a nice heavy roadster that looked nice.
They see me rollin’, they hatin’
So I set out for the first time and tried cycling around my area. The great thing about cycling is that you can feel like the cat’s pyjamas rolling out of the drive way and speed through your estate to the coast all in fifth gear, then you turn around to go home and find a subtle uphill climb waiting for you. There’s something very satisfying about it. It’s the same sort of satisfaction I got from walking, except you go faster and farther. There is a strange, simple satisfaction found in bringing yourself to a new place by the force of your own feet (and some forgiving down hill slopes). As exercising, it’s rewarding. You sweat all over and your knees feel like jelly.
The honeymoon was short. After a day, I had my first puncture and after 2 days had my first crash into a parked car on an empty road. The next day my mother came home with a hi vis vest and shouts at me if I don’t wear it.
BUT, the best thing about cycling everywhere isn’t the weight loss part of it (I actually haven’t gotten any lighter since I started- I’ve gone up a little bit because I’m eating more and making myself crave sugar). The best part is after three weeks starting to feel my body get a bit leaner and fitter. Hills are still an absolute BASTARD but I’m recovering faster and I’m lasting longer. now that I’ve got a feeling of control over my weight and my body, I can actually do fun things with it. That was my problem all along- I didn’t have a weight problem, I had a control problem. I felt utterly powerless and out of control when it came to my body. I was a slave to my compulsive eating, which meant I was a slave to being overweight, and then a slave to whatever clothes they had in my sizes.
It’s nice to feel like you’re putting your body to good use rather than just losing weight to sit around and look better. Being lighter means I can actually do stuff that before was just so fucking hard. Seriously no lie, I had a mountain bike last year and every hill I came to I had to get off and wheel the thing up. I was just too goddamn heavy to pedal myself up the hill. The bike was constantly punctured and I’m pretty sure that was a combination of being an old bike and being unable to carry my weight. Probably the best thing about getting fit again though is all the time I spend on my bike is time spent thinking about blogs and writing, which I’d fallen out of doing since my commute ended.
So in summation- Bathroom Scales bad, Cycling good.
Niamh ‘Can all car drivers please look for cyclists before they fling their doors open onto the road’ Keoghan
FINAL EDIT: NUIM Drama, I am glad to no longer be involved with you guys. end of.
When I was 13, I started going to a drama group in Clontarf. While I was there, my brisk no nonsense teacher guided me through the craft of being a good performer. No bullshit, no arty farty crap, just how to act and how to speak well. Drama became the first thing that I was just… good at. Acting was easy. Even when it was challenging it was easy. It was fun. Drama was the one thing. Drama was my one thing. I might be fat, or stupid, or lacking in subtlety- but I could do a decent monologue and that was all that mattered. Acting became something really important to me not for productions or the limelight but for a small inner peace I had never known before. When I fell into the character of another person I could forget how much I hated myself. Eventually, as it went on I slowly began to accept myself. If I could do this well, I could do anything well. If I could turn in a good performance, nothing else mattered.
Drama basically helped me work through all my problems and my anxieties. It was enriching and rewarding and fun. My little group still keeps in touch- my fantastic, no-nonsense teacher is now training me to take the teaching exams myself after college. I’m still welcome in that class now. When I started in NUI Maynooth I hoped that the Drama society there would be just as fulfilling.
NUIM Drama, you have beaten me. You’ve exhausted me, and you’ve won. You have finally, as a society, killed my love.
The Play I was in the cast of before Christmas, The Last of the Last of the Mohicans, is going to the ISDA festival, and my part is being re-cast. Going to go public with this and say right now how much NUIM Drama have ruined my love of acting. Every time I’ve gotten involved with that society as a performer I’ve come out the other end feeling used and badly treated. Last year, it was to do with politics that had nothing to do with me directly but concerning the play I was a cast member of and now it’s about me directly. With your cliques, your politics and your complete disregard for my self worth as a performer, you’ve beaten me. You’ve used my ability to act for two productions and once again, you’re discarding me as an inconvenient piece that won’t fit. I hope Mohicans and it’s cast are brilliant at ISDA because they will be going at the expense of my good will towards your society. You’ve lost me. You’ve lost me as a writer, as a performer, a director and a well wisher. You must have realized this was the only reaction I could have to your standing by as I’m airbrushed out. You have burned your bridge with me. I’m not even angry; I’m just very sad that I matter so little as a member of your group. Whatever the reasons are for re-casting my part (and I was told it wasn’t based on my actual performance, which was fine), I reserve the right to be very hurt.
You’ve turned something that I fell into as a vulnerable kid for escape and enjoyment into something that I dread to think about. I’ve lost all confidence in my ability to perform and I don’t think I’ll ever have the same love of drama and stage ever again. I’m not bitter, I don’t wish any individual member any harm (Many of you are my good friends and I wish you all the best) but as a person and a performer I feel utterly rejected and alienated. I won’t be participating in any productions anywhere for a long time. The thrill I used to feel being a part of something is lost- the confidence that used to flow in me is all drained out. You’ve taken a very important part of me away, and that hurts. That hurts me deeply. You kicked me out, and I’m not going to limp away without noting how much exactly you have taken away from me, how much it meant to me and what it’s cost.
I’m not putting this post up to have a go at you or make you look bad- as a society you are full of talent, boundless creativity and incredibly good people. That’s why I haven’t named anybody specifically in this letter. I’m not even mad. I’m not angry at the fantastic cast of Mohicans or the fantastic director who made the decision to re-cast me. I’m just really, really sad. I’m alone. I’m back in the place I was when I was 13.
Consider this my retirement notice from NUIM Drama and from acting at large. I will never participate in a production in Maynooth ever again. As for anywhere else, I’m still not sure if I will. I won’t write it off forever, but for the foreseeable future I can’t see myself being able to face it. Which is a pity. I wasn’t half bad.
Niamh ‘And no you can’t borrow my vintage radio for the set this time’ Keoghan
I’m actually writing this right now because I can’t sleep- it’s 1AM, and I’m up at 6:30 for my train to college. I can’t sleep because I’m tense and worried- about my pending exam results, my possible international year not happening, whether I’ll fail, whether I’ll get a masters place when I finish, whether anyone hates me, whether anyone fancies me- These thoughts rattle and vibrate through my head and bubble unpleasantly in my stomach.
If I had to describe my anxiety, I’d say it’s mostly like a stomach ache. It sometimes manifests in small ways- The famous one is my obsession with time keeping and punctuality. I get irritating and upset when I’m running late and profusely apologize for being even 10 minutes late. I will habitually check that my phone is still in my pocket when walking through town, to the point where I keep my hand on it constantly. When I’m feeling low, it gets more severe, and thoughts about exams or the bigger picture will cause a wave of heat and discomfort to spread from my stomach and make it hard to breathe. The biggest underlying trigger for my anxiety is the annoying conviction I’ve never been able to shake- that I’m just fooling everyone.
To be frank, I feel like an absolute failure about 35% of the time, and a mediocre schmoo the rest. The idea that I’m not actually as intelligent as everyone around me thinks I am and that I’m just fooling everyone never, ever leaves my head. Usually it’s just a bit of background noise that I can tell to fuck off, but when I’m low it obsesses me. I don’t feel good enough, every possibility is for people better able to succeed. I can’t see myself as useful or productive, and everything about the future becomes scary. Every time someone rolls their eyes and says they’ll never be employed after their degree, my stomach heaves unhappily. ‘They’re much more competent than you, and even they aren’t going to make it.’
And of course I know objectively that this is rubbish; I have a lot going for me. My grades aren’t terrible at all (though certainly not excellent), I’m in full time education, I’ve finally starting losing all the extra weight that was damaging my health and as a result I look the best I have since hitting puberty ten years ago, I have started dressing with actual thought rather than just wearing whatever fits, and I have a vast, overlapping, amazing network of friends and family who all care about me. But the small seed of self loathing that I’ve had in me for as long as I’ve been self aware is so deeply rooted now that it’s hard to weed out. Mostly, I can contain it to the occasional self deprecating comment about my weight, work or personality- just a small little dig at myself, to let people know I’m not actually a wanker. I’ve learned to be a bit nicer to myself, but the background noise of ‘you’re a fake!’ has been pretty stubborn. One of my earliest memories was a girl in primary school telling me that ‘self praise is no praise’ when I tried to assert myself. She was just being dumb and unpleasant, but I never shook it off.
I suppose the reason I’m saying this is because mental health happens to be coming up in my life an awful lot, since I now have a gang of friends all discussing it openly. It’s nice to apologetically describe your problem to someone, only for them to go ‘bummer, I’ve had stuff like that too.’ The trouble really comes when the anxious feelings get a bit worse than usual. There, I can’t think of certain topics without a shortness of breath and a sore stomach coming on. Today on the train it was thinking about my exam results that triggered a small attack. In fact it wasn’t thinking about my results- I’m still so anxious about the actual trigger that I can’t even type it here without starting off again. It’s nothing serious but right now it’s the main irrational worry. My unhappy low periods of tension and worry are pretty much my mental health equivalent of getting a bad cold every now and then. They never last too long, and usually clear after a few days or a week. If they persist for longer I have people I can talk to who always know how to help and advise, I’m very lucky that way.
And like a bad cold, I am now able to get back to normal in about a week. The clouds lift and my stomach settles, and the anxiety goes back down to a level I can manage it at. Sprinting to the bus stop even though the bus isn’t due for another ten minutes and habitually touching the back of my chair to make sure nobody has taken my coat are the worst of it (and the sprint to the bus does me good I suppose). I know other people aren’t as lucky, and I’m very thankful that my anxiety never lasts long or brings me to any dangerous places in my mind.
So… yeah. I needed to let that out. Sometimes I have really bad weeks and think I am really useless but then I talk to people who love me and I stay in bed for a few days and eventually it lifts and I go back to being okay.
Niamh ‘I am now anxious about the lack of insight this post actually offers’ Keoghan