This blog post isn’t directly about sewing, or about travel. It’s about weight – specifically, mine. For anyone who has a history of disordered eating, this may be a trigger, so I suggest that you skip reading this post. I’m writing it because I have recently lost a fair bit of weight, and people have noticed and commented.
I don’t have a history of disordered eating, in a conventional or medical sense. I was a thin kid and adolescent. In my adulthood I gained weight. So I did intensive exercise and calorie restriction and lost it. Then I gained it again. And lost it again. Repeat. Ad nauseum. I think that every time I did it my resting metabolism dropped lower and lower. Eventually I read about the negative effects of diet culture and the impact of fatphobia – both societal and internalised – and decided to just stop focusing on my weight, and instead keep on sewing to fit the body that I have.
I made this decision for a few reasons – a major one being that I had no health imperative to change things. I have always been dubious about weight discussions disguised as concern for people’s health. It’s fatphobia, combined with ableism. Fat does not necessarily equal healthy, any more than thin does. It’s a false equivalence. There are plenty of thin people who have terrible health – both mental and physical – and plenty of fat people who are incredibly healthy and strong. My blood tests and external health markers were always in normal range. I like good foods, unprocessed and fresh, but I also enjoy potato chips, soft cheeses, chocolate, and wine.
Then last year I started getting gastrointestinal symptoms that were affecting the quality of my life. I was often uncomfortable. My day job involves reading medical records, and I’d been reading many, many records related to diseases of the digestive system, especially of the liver. I have a certain level of paranoia due to my job, so I booked in with my GP. She ran all the usual tests plus a few more (these were all fine apart from a protozoa in my gut that many people have, but only cause issues in some) and she also ordered abdominal ultrasounds. The ultrasounds only found one issue – fatty liver.
Now, fatty liver is not a good thing to have. It occurs when your body starts putting fat into organs in addition to increasing subcutaneous fat. To reduce it, I needed to lose weight.
As it happens, my husband – not an overweight man – was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about ten years ago. He’s genetically susceptible to it; siblings also have high blood sugar. Until recently he’s managed to keep it under control via exercise and diet alone. We’ve done our own reading on the management of diabetes, and came across the work of Dr Jason Fung, a nephrologist. He recommends fasting as a key method of decreasing insulin production in the body, and therefore reducing the impact of diabetes along with a corresponding weight loss. Intermittent fasting has recently been popularised in the UK and Australia by Dr Michael Mosley. Both my husband and I have science backgrounds, and the logic inherent in the work of both these men makes sense to us. If you google fasting there are a myriad of articles about it – it’s becoming more and more well known and more popular.
My husband was already doing a complete fast two days per week, and in October I began doing it too. For two days a week – mostly Monday and Wednesday – I don’t eat. I drink black coffee in the mornings, and I drink plenty of water, but that’s it. Mosley’s version of intermittent fasting allows a small amount of food on fast days, but that only makes me hungry. I prefer to have nothing.
On the five days of the week that I eat, I choose higher protein/fat and vastly reduced bread/rice/potato and processed foods, and I avoid sugar. I’ve also reduced my alcohol intake – my last alcoholic drink was in December, but I expect that I will enjoy a glass or two of wine on occasion. I will sometimes have a piece of cake or some soft cheese and crackers, but not often. I don’t count calories/kilojoules or plan my food each day; this way of eating doesn’t take up much head space. I eat fresh foods, with as little processing as possible. I didn’t fast at all for the three weeks that we were away on holiday, but tried to follow the same eating principles, without snacking in between.
So far I’ve gone from the BMI calculator defintion of obese through overweight to now not far from the ‘healthy’ weight range. Most importantly, my gastrointestinal symptoms have improved significantly. I won’t know about the fatty liver unless I have another ultrasound. I’ll be interested to see what my other blood tests/health markers show next GP visit as well.
So yes, I do look different. It’s not just the change of hair colour (I’m growing in the grey, which could potentially be a whole other blog post) and hair length. Will I be able to sustain this lifestyle change? I think so. For me, it’s medically necessary. I want to feel well, and reduce my chance of developing liver and pancreas issues. I have tried fasting before, but that wasn’t with a health motivation. Societal weight expectations don’t make me change my eating behaviours in the longer term! This time, it’s different.
Detractors of fasting say that it’s just another diet and another fad that plays right into diet culture. I’m not so certain about this. Many cultures around the world incorporate fasting into their regular lives, whether for one day a week or for other periods of time. It’s not an unusual thing; billions of people do it. Here in Australia we are conditioned to eat every time we feel a hunger pang. Honestly, it’s not that hard to cope with feeling hungry every now and then. For me, it’s only until the next day. But there still isn’t any published research into the long-term effects of fasting. I’d also like to see more research on intermittent fasting in perimenopausal women and how women’s hormones interact with insulin. Most of what I’ve read has focused on men (which isn’t unusual when it comes to medical research).
Honestly, I was conflicted in writing this post. The last thing that I want to do is to become part of diet culture, but I suspect that just by writing this I have done exactly that. This post is just about me – sample size of one person – and I think it’s really important to remember that everyone’s journey and needs and health situations are different. You need to do your own research and figure what works for you and your body and mind, in a holistic sense, when it comes to things like weight and food and health. This is difficult in the society we live in. In general I don’t talk about diets and weight and weight loss, and I actively avoid placing value judgements on foods. There are more rewarding things in life to be spending your time and energy on; after all, you could be sewing!
Edited to add: Thank you so much to all the people who have commented on this post or contacted me in other ways. It has clearly struck a chord with many people. I was very interested to read how many of you have discovered that fasting has had a positive health impact on your lives, especially those of you my age and older. Thanks again for your responses – they are greatly appreciated.