Let’s get one thing out there right off the bat: this post is not about body shaming. It’s about having a happy relationship with it and therefore, a happier relationship with your horse. I am not about to enter debates about whether or not you may be too heavy for your horse either. Also, if you are happy with your body and how you ride – no matter what your weight – if it ain’t broke, you don’t need fixing. In fact, the first thing you need to understand even if you are feeling weighed down by body issues, is – there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need fixing – period. And if you are struggling, the other even more important thing you need to understand is: You are being set up to fail. It’s not a level arena out there whether you are aware of it or not. It has nothing to do with your willpower or commitment or lack thereof. The ‘system’ if you want to call it that, is rigged against you.
I’m serving you this with a big, zero calorie sprinkle of love. I’ve always been a comfort eater. Sure, we all know those people whose appetite drops to zero whenever they face challenges. The rest of us – well, we’re reaching for the crisps/chocolate/pizza washed down with a nice Chardonnay whenever problems rear their ugly head. How did that bottle just evaporate?! Did I really eat that whole tub of Ben & Gerry’s? Believe me, I’ve been there. Right now I’m three jeans sizes bigger than I was three years ago. I weigh more than I did when I was pregnant. Months and months of extremely bad but at the time comforting lifestyle choices following my horse being retired have not only led to the ballooning weight and limited wardrobe options, but the loss of part of my stomach lining. There are no more curries or delicious G&T’s for me for the foreseeable future. I have to eat nursery food – and small helpings of it. And definitely No Booze.
I knew what I was doing. There was always that still, small voice in the back of my mind telling me I was going to regret this latest bag of delicious Polish bacon flavoured snacks and that Pinio Grigio. But emotional pain overrode this. And before the scary medical diagnosis, my own efforts to take back the reins of my own eating did not yield the results I hoped for. Why? Because as I said, you are being set up to fail.
The diet industry in the USA alone is worth $72 BILLION dollars a year. This does not include the rest of the developed world. Think about that for a moment. Think about the property you would own and the horses you would buy with just 1% of that amount. Now – think about what would happen to the income streams of all those authors of the latest diet fad, the manufacturers of those weight loss supplements, those fitness gurus, those influencers, if we all got happy with our weight. (Note: I am not saying thin, I am saying happy). That’s right. They’re out of business. They want you to keep buying in.
We all know the truth – diets make you fat. But we keep trying them nonetheless. I told you this was not a level arena. The system is rigged against you from the start. By the way our food is produced, manufactured and sold. Most of the world’s agriculture is run by a handful of global multinationals. The food we eat isn’t what our grandparents ate. The choices we have when we walk into a supermarket, order that take-out, grab that fast food – did not exist. And just like the diet industry – you’re being set up to fail again. They want you to keep making the same choices and decisions. So they ensure you come back for more by feeding you a fix. What is your fix? Sugar.
Maybe you’re like me. I’m one of those people who likes savoury foods rather than sweet. But sugar is there whether you know it or not. In that ready meal – disguised because it’s corn syrup. In your cereal whether you’ve chosen Coco Pops or not. That commercially produced bread you buy – your body isn’t designed to process it. That margarine because you’ve been told butter is not healthy, is loaded with fats which are not only bad for you, but again, your body is not designed to process. Some kind of sugar derivative is in that commercially produced pizza crust, pasta dish, cook-in sauce.
And then there’s the ‘Low Fat’ options which we are told we need to buy. Three things make food taste good to us. They are – salt, fat and yes, sugar. If you take one away you have to replace it with more of one of the others. Guess what they put in if they take away the fat? You got it. Sugar or corn syrup – which is the same thing. I’ve not even listed here the obvious sources of sugar – refined carbohydrates – those cakes, biscuits, sweets, ice cream etc. Or the energy dense, highly processed foods – crisps, snacks, fast food. Sugary soft drinks. Alcohol. When I worked in corporate communications, one of my clients was a global fast food chain whose name I cannot mention. All I can tell you is that the reason their burgers slide down so easily and leave you will a vague sense of not being full is that they load up the buns with sugar. They want you to go buy another in the search for satisfaction. Yes, it’s an over-arching FAIL whichever way you look at it. And let’s not even go near what is in their shakes.
I promised you a post on being happy with your body and happy with your riding. This isn’t a rant or a conspiracy theory. If you are not happy with your weight, understand this is a symptom, not your cause. If you try to treat the symptom, you will fail every time. And now you know you have been set up to do just that. If you comfort eat like me, eat because you are compensating for loneliness, avoidance – an unhappy relationship or job for example, depression – you will continue to struggle. Go directly to your cause and ask for help if you need it.
Want to change? It’s not about diet, it’s about choices. You have now seen the enemy. Also, are you stopping yourself loving yourself and your riding life because of your body issues? Common myths around riding include that if you are overweight you cannot be properly balanced. This is a pile of horse s**t. Everyone, no matter what their weight has their perfect point of balance in the saddle. Their ‘sweet spot’. This varies between individuals and is factored by height and body type as well as weight. You find this by working with a good instructor. So, if you are telling yourself you will get back to riding or pursuing that dressage goal once you lose a stone, stop the madness and get riding right now. Find that healthy sweet spot.
What else are you putting off? Buying those cherry coloured breeches or bling jeans until you’re a size 10 again? Love yourself enough to ditch those clothes that you know don’t flatter you and you hate, and buy some you love in the size you are right now. Wear them every day and enjoy how good they make you feel. If they start to go baggy – sell them on eBay to someone who will love them just as you have and buy a smaller size. If you stay the size you are – a breeches-perfect body is the one you get when you wear the perfect breeches for you. You got this.
If you have arrived or fear you will arrive, at a similar place as I did where your health may be compromised by the choices you are making around food, as well as talking to your doctor, here are some resources which have helped me:
Why Are We Fat? This is free on Amazon Prime and also on Sky. Insightful New Zealand documentary series which explores the sugar/obesity connection via the real life weight loss journey of its presenter.
Riding Through Thick & Thin: Wonderful book by Melinda Folse packed with riding and also lifestyle tips on making peace with your body and enjoying your riding life right now. Available on Amazon or hey – support your local bookshop and order it there.
Sugar Busters: Probably the only ‘diet’ book I would recommend as it is not about counting calories but cutting out sugar – especially the hidden sugar which sabotages us, in our diets. Yes, you are allowed wine.
Is your body not only stopping you riding the way you want right now, but also preventing you from moving forward with other areas of your life – such as finding a two legged partner for example? Because chances are if you believe you cannot ride a certain way due to body issues, this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to those ‘I’ll do that when I lose 15lbs’ goals. If so, I’m going to end this post with the story of my gorgeous friend Fonda. Fonda began trying to diet when she was eight years old. Because she was already under pressure to make her body conform to the size zero ideal purveyed by today’s media. The insanity of this defined her teens.
When she left school, she got a job in fashion – running fashion shows and yes, ironically surrounded by the blonde ‘perfect’ zeros she was clearly not. Then she was booked to stage a fashion show in Cairo. And this was when everything – most importantly, her own perspective changed. Once in Egypt, those size zeros who we are all pressured to emulate, did not appear even as a stick-insect sized ‘blip’ on the radar of Egyptian men. They were not the ideal. Fonda was. Everywhere she went she received compliments, offers of dates and even marriage proposals. After this, Fonda quit the battle to make her body conform to an unrealistic ideal and became a model herself – a plus size one. I am repeating here what I said at the beginning of this post – you are fine as you are. Also, if you believe you need to be something else to get a date or go for any goal you have, it’s your thoughts, not your body, that are in the way.
Me? Well, no booze means I no longer make the other choices that went with it. I try to limit the ready meal to once a week or less and make meals from scratch. The realisation of how hard the food industry makes it for us to lose weight if we want to, has led me to make different, informed choices. I’m not saying I don’t have the odd slip. And life is too short to make it one of total denial. Riding forward means letting go of self-judgment and criticism. We all get enough of that from outside influences as it is. I’m down one jeans size but facing at least another two months of nanny food with prohibition attached. I described it to a friend as ‘being in an open rehab facility’. But I’m working on being happy with how I am today – not how much I may weigh tomorrow.
Written by Helen Watts