I started dieting aged 11, when a chance remark from my sister about how many calories were in my toast and marmalade meant from that day I never put anything in my mouth without thinking how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it was.
While I was editor of Marie Claire, I started a campaign for more realistic, attainable body shapes in magazines. People mistook my motive as being all about models’ health. It wasn’t. They are, on the whole, mostly born that way. My campaign was about why these unattainable body shapes were all we are shown as an ideal. Because this ideal ruins lives.
It certainly ruined mine. I became very good at starving myself. I would eat just four apples a day, which eroded my teeth. I developed appalling acne. I remember the moment, during one of my endless Pilates classes, the instructor leaning over me and saying, ‘Your face is actually weeping.’ I developed hair on my body and my face. I was so malnourished, I thought I was going blind, and I became agoraphobic, unwilling to go out in case someone offered me food. I didn’t menstruate. I had terrible mood swings and depression.
I didn't want to attract men, or to get pregnant: to me, just another word for fat.
I still have depression, because I am still counting calories, 40 years later. Because once an eating disorder takes hold, it is very difficult to make it let go. I was hospitalised at my worst. I was put on steroids, but no one suggested counselling. No sooner was I released from St Barts than I booked a breast reduction. The battle against my body was unrelenting. No one could stop me.
I didn’t want to attract men, or to get pregnant: to me, just another word for fat. It all looked too messy and chaotic.
I wanted to be perfect, so I followed the advice in all the magazines, as though my life depended on it, which in a way it did. I believed the lies they told me: that when I reached my goal weight, I would be happy. Trouble was, the goal posts kept moving: just two more pounds, just one more inch.
So I put off having an actual life – holidays wearing a bikini, a boyfriend, getting drunk (far too many calories) – and then realised I was 32 years old and had never had sex.
I look at women with breasts, muffin tops and curves and I don't understand how their condition is condemned as bad, while my BMI of 12 is somehow good.
Being on a diet for over 40 years has meant I was never able to have children, and that I will undoubtedly develop brittle bones any time soon. It has meant I wake up every day with a brain that knows only fear, depression and low self-esteem.
Having an unnatural attitude towards food is the hardest psychological disorder to recover from. We don’t respond to reason, threats from loved ones, threats to our health. I have spent my life on less than 1,000 calories a day but this does not mean I am healthy. I look at women with breasts, muffin tops (isn’t that a disgusting term?) and curves and I don’t understand how their condition is condemned as bad, while my BMI of 12 is somehow good. Why, if that is so, did 26,00 die each year in the US from being overweight, while 34,000 died from being underweight?
No-one wants to not fit behind a steering wheel, or be unable to play with their children, or feel so disgusting they cannot leave the house.
Ignoring those statistics, Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer of the UK announced recently that obesity is now so common, society is ‘normalising being overweight’. She criticised the use of ‘size 16 dummies’ in fashion, and said the overweight don’t realise they have a problem. Now, I have never met one woman who saw a size 18 dress in Marisota and thought, ‘Wow, I must eat my way into that!’ No one wants to not fit behind a steering wheel, or be unable to play with their children, or feel so disgusting they cannot leave the house.
We should stop thinking about food, full stop, and focus on more important stuff. What a waste of my life, counting calories, running in fear from the fat in an avocado, when I could have been having fun.
And Ms Davies, can I ask you what exactly is wrong with being a size 16? My mum was never less than a size 16 and she led a long, fulfilled life, loved by a husband for over 60 years, surrounded by children and grandchildren. She was not a textbook feminist – she didn’t own a cheque book, let alone have a career. But she never once refused food in case it made her fat. She cooked everything from scratch, thus thwarting the food industry’s attempts to kill us with trans fats, salt and sugar. She didn’t give two hoots about how she looked: she never dyed her hair, attended a Pilates class, or drank bottled water. How on earth did we get from her to me in one generation?
Of course fat is still a feminist issue. We are no longer trapped in our homes. We are now trapped in our bodies.
Liz Jones is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.