Hellosie, it’s Maisie. I won’t be doing an extreme detox diet again but if you’re considering it, here are some of the weird effects you can expect to experience.

th74V1FBXR

It’s that time of year, where holiday season is looming, so detox diets start appearing in magazines and on websites – everywhere you look – promising rapid weight loss so you can fit into that bikini you’ve been eyeing.

But be warned: I have done it before, and I can tell you what happens to your body and it’s not pleasant.

A couple of years ago I went on an extreme detox diet. For two weeks I ate no food, just drank foul-tasting Chinese herbs (imagine the taste of old cigarette butts floating in brackish creek water), then for the following three weeks I ate only small amounts of cucumber and poached chicken.

I lost 14 kilograms, which I put back on by the end of the summer.

I won’t be doing an extreme detox diet again but if you’re considering it, here are some of the weird effects you can expect to experience.

You will smell.

It was day four of no food when I noticed the smell. I was lying in bed with the windows open, and thought, “Maaaannn, someone must have left a bag of old chicken carcasses out in the sun. Chicken carcasses and off milk.” I closed the window in disgust before realising the smell was coming from me. I smelled like chicken carcasses and sour milk.

Over the following weeks, friends recoiled from me when I hugged them, and I noticed that when I cried, even my tears smelled bad.

You will be bored.

Not shopping for, preparing, eating and cleaning up after a meal means that days are no longer filled with food-related tasks. Without meals, there’s no marker or divider so time takes on a different dimension. There’s so much of it!

I avoided food-related socialising while dieting, so did not spend any time in restaurants or bars. I had nothing to do during the day, which was lucky because I slept a lot. I also had no plans at night.

I was bored. Really bored. Each day I weighed myself, had some acupuncture and a (very hard) massage. Then I’d go home to just … hang. I had no energy to do anything else. When I met people on a rare outing, I was hyperactive. I was so excited to meet a friend in the park one day that I arrived an hour early.

“Soon I will see her!” I said, looking at my phone, “In 43 minutes!”

Then, your skin goes blotchy, eyes bloodshot, hair lank, tongue coated, and of course you stink. Then one day you wake up and look in the mirror and there’s no other word for how you look: AMAZING.

My nails were strong, hair shiny, the whites of my eyes luminous. Who was this person? I was afraid, though, that if I kept on not eating, I’d look like an infant by August.

By day five, I felt like I was on heavy sedatives. I could barely do anything except sleep.

When awake, I spent hours staring out the window. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read more than a couple of lines of my book. TV programs, even the dumb ones, were too much effort.

I was no longer able to think very much, about anything at all.

Days four to seven are really hard.

The first couple of days are fine, almost a novelty. I felt too waterlogged from the gross herbs to be properly hungry and I didn’t leave the house much so was safe from temptation. There were headaches – probably from caffeine withdrawals – but they went away after three days.

But by day four, bad moods, boredom, hunger, lack of energy and brain fog were bumming me out. I was no longer able to think very much, about anything at all.

In the second week, things improved considerably, including memory and concentration.

You will only think of food, to the point of obsession

Food preoccupied me like never before. I spent a lot of time thinking about various meals of the past that I have enjoyed. Seeing a picture of pizza made me feel so much longing that I couldn’t sleep. It’s like being horny, times a thousand. I would stop outside restaurants to watch people eat. I licked food, secretly at home, then threw it in the bin. I missed chewing.

When I was out with a friend who was eating hot chips, I snatched one from her plate, licked it and felt it in my mouth, then threw it in the bin without swallowing it. She was disgusted. She also told me that my new gaunt face made me look like “a PR chick”.

On day 10 I woke up with chest pains. “Am I having a heart attack?” I panicked. The pain subsided and I visited my GP who was surprisingly mellow about the fast. He told me that fasting had been around forever and human beings are quite good at it due to long periods of time not catching things in the wilderness. He also said that fasting is good from an ethical perspective because you get to understand what it’s like to go without food.

Stuff comes out of your body.

This was a mystery. Why, if I was not eating anything was my body expelling so much STUFF? It was gross. What was it? Where did it come from? A Google search revealed weird pictures of things in toilet bowls that other fasters had taken. It was horrible, yet in that deprived state, strangely compelling.

You reassess food intake.

When I started eating again, I was full after one bean and a tiny piece of fish. It was delicious. I did not need any more food. I thought back to all the times when I needed a snack after two or three hours. I needed it! Well, perhaps I didn’t need it.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. I’m proud of my body. I love my body for me. And not for some advertising standard.

thLIEIJ02D

We all know that “fat-shaming” is wrong. No one should be disadvantaged or ridiculed for their weight. But what about the flipside: why is skinny-shaming OK, if fat-shaming is not?

A few years ago, I gathered for a weekly meeting. There would be platters of pastries along the table. A senior colleague – a lovely woman in her 50s – would always urge me, loudly, to have a croissant. She would prod me in the side, in a friendly manner, and say: “Look, she’s nothing but skin and bone!”

The fact that I was too skinny in those days and that she was overweight is irrelevant. She was drawing attention to my size in a way that would have been unacceptable had I done the same to her. I’m aware I’m skating on thin ice: what could be more irritating than a thin person describing another person as fat? And yet – for a moment – think about how we describe thinness: skinny, angular, emaciated, bony, skeletal, lollipop-head. These terms are batted about in the media quite casually, without the caution we must now use in our references to fat. I happen to find the term “skinny” offensive, but of course that’s foolish. You’re lucky to be thin, you think, rolling your eyes.

I’ve never been teased, or excluded, or called greedy. I’m not a “big girl” but I have curves.

Well, I know the experience of feeling that one’s private pain is on display on one’s body, of being stared at, and feeling horribly conspicuous. I see clear parallels between fatness and thinness. I believe that out-of-control eating may work in the same way as out-of-control starving, as a defence mechanism against the world, a place to retreat when it all gets too much.

It seems we can’t have a rational debate about the reasons for, and the experience of, obesity – fat is still a feminist issue, and a fraught one at that. But I’m fed up with being judged for being physically disciplined, for watching what I eat, and for exercising several times a week. Other things a thin woman is not allowed to say: “it takes willpower to stay slim”; “of course it would be easier just to eat anything I wanted but I don’t”; “yes, I’m often hungry mid-morning but I wait until lunchtime”. Above all, a slim woman must never say: “I prefer being slim.”

I spoke to a woman on this subject who would be diagnosis as obese. She was friendly, open and happy to discuss her size. We got on like a house on fire, and I found her positivity refreshing, but her weight is an unsafe weight. I admire her ability to withstand societal pressures to look a certain way, but there is a level of self-deception here too: physical extremes, from very underweight to very overweight, are stressful for the body, and often mask mental turmoil too.

For me, facing up to the health consequences really helped. I wasted several years struggling with the mental twists and turns of anorexia. If we reframed the debate around fat and accepted that it can be a form of disordered eating with physical consequences, we might start to get somewhere.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. I eat therefore I am on a continuous diet.

DietV

I recall a school friend of mine once put the doughnuts I was eating in a bin then covered it with washing up liquid to ensure I didn’t eat any more. We both agreed that this was abnormal behaviour but subsequently I know I have done similar on several occasions.

I have never been officially diagnosed as having a disorder but at some point, in my early teens food was an overwhelming focus in my life, affecting my relationships, social life and mental health. This has left me both without external recognition of the ‘recovery’ I have made from my disordered thoughts around food and the worry of whether my behaviour is more commonplace than I suspect.

Sharing this story is motivated by finally acknowledging at twenty-two my own complicated relationship with food in the most open way I feel I can. However, it’s also in the hope that my own experiences may resonate with others so they can see that eating and living like this is something that needs to be recognised, acknowledged and addressed.

My continuous diet.

From what I can remember, I had a healthy relationship with food as a young child. I was encouraged by my family to enjoy three meals a day with lots of fruit and vegetables. As a result, I pretty much ate whatever I wanted throughout my childhood and don’t remember caring about food or my weight on any consuming level.

I was not popular at school between the ages of 12 and 13, but not about my weight. However, I do wonder if it is relevant to the diet I began at 13. I assumed that the school friends or lack of had no serious psychological impact on me although it was one of the most stressful periods of my childhood when I felt utterly helpless. Despite believing I was not someone who needed control in my life, this diet was the first sign of the huge amount of self-discipline I could exert over my food intake.

The diet was easy and just involved cutting down on calories, not snacking and watching the weight melt away. It wasn’t as if I woke up one day with a sudden obsession with food. What happened was more like a slow, steady process of change where the seeming simplicity of that first diet was lost and I fell into a worsening relationship with food like Alice falling into Wonderland.

In all other areas of my life, I was a relaxed person who had a reputation for being a swot and so I believed I simply didn’t fit the stereotype of someone who might have developed a disorder.

I didn’t do anything particularly disordered at first. I didn’t exercise to excess, I didn’t punish myself if I ate anything calorific, I didn’t restrict my intake of food if I thought I’d gone over my calorie limit, I didn’t let my hands search out ribs in the shower. As the summer of my final year in high school came, I even loosened my diet to be less restrictive and enjoyed a relaxed summer with family and food.

At some point during college, my habits became more intense. Whenever I wanted to lose weight faster I would simply skip meals. I began reading message boards for people with eating disorders, partly so I could gain tips for restricting my own calorie intake and partly for a paradoxical reassurance that I didn’t have a disorder myself.

There was lots of discussion on these boards about a phenomenon called ‘fake anorexia’ (there was some catchy name for this idea, but I can’t remember it now) and how these ‘fakers’ did not understand the real struggle of ‘true’ anorexics. I felt perhaps they were right in labelling my disordered eating patterns as something ‘fake’: I could switch very quickly from a few days of skipping meals back to eating regularly, in comparison to the life of permanent starvation I imagined for someone with a ‘real’ eating disorder.

The buzz of controlling my weight was hugely enthralling and filled me with euphoria like nothing else did. In the TV show Skins, the character Cassie, a recovering anorexic, tells her teacher that not eating was the “happiest time of her life” and this line still lights up my brain with utter recognition.

At college, I had dropped to a low weight and my periods where effected, as they had from about the age 15 onwards. I was also working far too hard and sleeping for around four hours a night before returning to the library to continue the cycle of working, going to the gym and not eating. I would look at myself in the mirror with a mixture of glee and horror. I was fascinated by how much I had managed to distort and adapt my own body.

Being thin was so tied up with my idea of who I was as a young adult.

By the time, I returned home my parents were impressed by my eagerness to get up early and go job-hunting but I only remember that summer as a blur of buzzing about, feeling physically incapable of sitting down and avoiding eating or drinking at all social events. I’d begun to see alcohol as another enemy and took to pouring my drinks down club sinks to avoid the calories.

Back living with my parents, it was more difficult to maintain my restrictive diet. I gained back weight I had lost and then some. Looking back at pictures of this time are particularly painful and I feel almost no connection with this person who, in my mind, looks like a blown-up version of myself.

I somehow now seem to have reached a strange middle ground. I am a healthy weight for my height. I can look at photos of myself without grimacing at the roundness of my cheeks or feeling secretly smug at how my collar bones pop out of my shirt. I am now, seemingly, incapable of skipping meals like I did and binging has finally lost any appeal (how? I don’t know).

I am not happy with my body but I am not desperately miserable. Do I long for the days I could get a thrill from realising I’d not eaten for nearly 24 hours? Where I could resist chocolate with ease? Where I could reassure myself with a quick assessment of slightly protruding ribs or hipbones? Yes, to a degree.

I do not know how I have reached this stage. As I entered adulthood, it seemed silly to turn down wine because of the calories and it seemed ludicrous to skip eating meals most of the week because I would be eating out at the weekend. I feel that perhaps my body refuses now to join in the games my mind used to play with it; at last, they are working together and are not enemies.

I know I am lucky to some degree. I am lucky that I managed to ‘recover’ without medical help. But I also feel unlucky that thinking about food and my weight took up such a huge part of my teenage years and I often wonder how many other people have had or are having their own secret battles.