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
Lately, on my wanders through this world, I’ve encountered a strange phenomenon in Ireland and the discussion around feminism. This is when I throw up one of my feminist cards- like talking about rape culture, or casual misogyny, or consent- I’m usually rebuffed with ‘well what about the MEN? Men get oppressed by sexism TOO, you know?’ And this makes me sad. Because most of the people who say this are very cool, groovy, right on people who are concerned with justice and fairness. We’re on the same page, guys. We shouldn’t be fighting! But most alarming to me in the ‘mens rights’ camp is one John Waters, who has been on my radar for a long time. Oh Mister Waters. I used to read you column in the Irish Daily Mail back when I was a baby writer. You taught me more about writing than anyone else- I just didn’t do whatever you did. Lately he’s got a gig trotting onto various radio shows and wailing against feminism and women’s rights as infringing on the rights of men.
Now, Mister Waters is absolutely, 100% right in saying that men are oppressed. Try getting married to your male partner or adopting a child to raise together or indeed, even try walking around town at night holding hands. You’re pretty certain to get a shit storm of abuse. Also rather oppressed is the Trans man, who some feminists have said very mean things about and who a lot of people will still be really resistant to accepting. Oh, if you’re a working class man or a man with a mental illness, you’re likely to get shit too. If you’re a man from the travelling community you’re probably getting a fair bit of ‘we have the right to refuse admission’ off bouncers and dying about 10 years earlier than your settled peers. So yes, men are oppressed.
But the men that are decidedly NOT oppressed are ones like John Waters and David Quinn. Middle class, comfortably employed, conservative, catholic broadsheet columnists are doing pretty okay in this country. You’re not being oppressed on the basis of your religion or your gender. If you’ve been interned without trial for simply being a catholic well then you’re totally being oppressed, but somebody talking about the massive industrial scale slavery that religious orders ran or the institutional rape that was covered and perpetrated by the Catholic church isn’t. If I have to as a feminist deal with the stupid shit Caitlin Moran has said on twitter then you guys have to deal with the criticism of your religion’s hierarchy.
I should probably point out here that I have heaps of what is now fashionably called ‘privilege’. I’m white, straight, comfortably supported financially by my parents and studying at university. I get misogynistic comments and sexist bullshit but it’s usually of a sort that doesn’t ruin my life or severely impede my liberty. I get a little bit more bother for being outspokenly atheist and left wing than I do about being a woman, generally.
That being said, I do get some strange comments. When I’m told to cover up and not get drunk in order to avoid getting raped- guys, why doesn’t this attitude to rape bother you more? I give out about rape culture and a lot of guys take offence to the idea that women are always victims and men are always the rapists. But this ‘look after yourself and avoid dressing a certain way’ is so insulting. It basically says the men can’t control themselves- that if given the slightest chance, they would rape a woman for showing skin or being vulnerable. It reduces men to animals unable of control or restraint or respect for bodily autonomy. I think about the men I know- the kindest and most polite gentlemen you’d ever meet- and I know that’s wrong.
But yknow, women do get oppressed and in Ireland, we were fucking chronic for it. In my lifetime, there were Magdalene women imprisoned in laundries. Women had to sneak over the border to get contraception and sneak it back. The original premises of the Irish family planning association had a back exit just in case they were raided. Information about abortion- not even the procedure itself but information about it- was banned from distribution. Women weren’t even trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies with all the relevant information and options. Symphesiotomies happened until 1986. In the same year a fifteen year old girl gave birth and died in a grotto in Longford. People see Nell McCafferty on telly and roll their eyes. I get hounded for expressing the apparently radical opinion that I should have a voice.
Really what John Waters and David Quinn are afraid of isn’t being oppressed. They’re afraid of losing the position of power and privilege that the Irish catholic male has held since 1922. They don’t like women speaking out because they then lose the ‘right’ to speak for them, act for them and make decisions for them. They wail oppression when the old taboos are broken- when we criticize the church openly and bitterly, as it should be criticized as an institution. You can’t claim to speak for ALMIGHTY GOD and ask us to lay off when your massive rape ring is uncovered. That’s insulting to your members, your followers and insulting to everyone else.
Women don’t always just get oppressed for being ‘the women.’ Often it’s influenced by race, by ethnic background, by social or economic status. One of the challenges of feminism now is how we collate all these different little bullshit things and kick them down. But whatever the complications and challenges of the movement, You simply can’t ask women to get back in the box. It’s arrogant. Please stop politely and reasonably asking to be treated as something more than a baby and cake dispenser, because you’re oppressing John Waters. Stop politely and reasonably asking for reform so that childcare and custody are equally shared between parents. Stop politely and reasonably asking for equal marriage and gay rights. Stop politely and reasonably asking to change things, because it’s making John Waters feel challenged. Yeah.
I’ll get right on that.
Niamh ‘crushing you with the boot of my polite requests for fairness’ Keoghan