December is a funny old month. As we collectively start to scrape our windscreens and complain about the cold, there is also a sense of excitement in the air as Christmas approaches. Suddenly it doesn’t seem “too soon” for the John Lewis advert (which is pretty disappointing this year right?), and we start to stock up on boxes of Quality Street and bottles of festive booze. It’s also a time when our health and fitness goals seem to take a bit of a backseat, veiled under mutterings of “oh, I’ll start again in January”. However, for anyone with a complicated relationship with food, fitness and body image, December can also be a very difficult month.
I sit writing this blog post looking at a vivid purple box of Cadburys Heroes sat on the coffee table in front of me. The sight of them always reminds me of several Decembers ago when, in the throes of Anorexia, I ate a whole tub in one sitting. That winter I had had my driving licence revoked. My doctor wrote to the DVLA and informed them that my Body Mass Index was so low that it could affect my cognitive functioning, and therefore my ability to drive. I was partly distraught – I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere, how on earth would I get anywhere? I was also partly ecstatic – I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere, so now I would have to run everywhere. So, henceforth, I was running a half marathon every day in order to get to work. Needless to say, my weight and health were deteriorating and my body was crying out for food.
When you are underweight it’s common for people to buy you food, in the desperate hope that you may eat it. Anorexics hoard food. They keep it safe, often having their own shelf or cupboard for all of the treats that are rarely eaten. A colleague had given me said tub of Heroes, and they had sat unopened in my home for weeks. I went on a night out with some friends, and found myself mindlessly drunk. I rarely restricted alcohol – wine was just another beautiful escapism from my sad and lonely life. So, upon returning home, inebriated and lacking in judgement, I decided to open the box. My OCD rituals meant that I was obsessed with numbers. I ate two Twirls, two Cadburys Caramels, two Eclairs. Then two Fudge pieces – I don’t even like Fudge. The next thing I know I’m eating each type of chocolate in multiples of two, desperately trying to create a pattern in order to make the scenario “ok”. It wasn’t ok, and before I knew it I had eaten the whole box and was surrounded by empty little wrappers twinkling there on the floor beside me.
I woke up the next morning and had that awful hungover feeling of “what the hell did I eat last night?” (which is far worse than “who did I sleep with last night?”, or so I imagine). I went for a horrifically long run in the December cold. I restricted my food intake for the days and weeks that followed, right up until the Christmas festivities. I even ran on Christmas Day, telling myself that I’m hardcore. In actual fact I was just another anorexic who was scared of eating. Throughout December I threw away every advent calendar chocolate that my mother had kindly given me. I was petrified of 20 calories in an advent chocolate, yet I drank, binged and ran my skinny socks off until I felt sufficiently punished. I was addicted to this cycle of self loathing.
What would you say to this person? Would you tell her to lay off alcohol, to stop running, to be kind to herself and eat the advent calendar chocolate each day? Would you tell her to ask for help? Or would you tell her that she should continue in this cycle, and start in January instead?
For anyone wishing to improve their health and body composition – whether it’s losing body fat, gaining muscle, improving blood pressure or recovering from an eating disorder – THE TIME IS NOW. As a Personal Trainer I have already noticed that the gym is getting quieter, and some members are delaying personal training until the New Year.
But, sustainable and effective change takes time. I did not wake up one day recovered from Anorexia, at a healthy weight, with a driving licence, feeling able to eat without guilt or shame. It took years of changing small habits, one after the other. It took years of therapy, and having someone to coach and support me through the process. It took determination and a big old pair of festive baubles.
December is a great time to start implementing some changes to your health. It can be something small, like making sure you are drinking plenty of water. With regards to Christmas, I draw the analogy of a credit card. Get “in credit” for the month of December. Smash some gym sessions, and know that for a few days over the festive period you can enjoy all of the food and drink that is on offer. On the other hand, if you can relate to my story, it might be that you order a Gingerbread Latte from Starbucks instead of a black coffee, as they will be long gone by the time you think you will be ready.
My goals for this December are as follows:
1. To eat every single advent chocolate. Last year I had assistance from my then boyfriend, but this year those little babies are mine.
2. To make the most of what is left of my off season. So, keeping my calories high and my training intense, ready to prep for a competition next year.
3. To enjoy my Christmas, and to spread love to my family, friends and clients.
I would love to hear your goals, so please get in touch, and have a very happy and healthy December!