I wasted years looking for silver bullet to transform my body

‘I wasted years looking for silver bullet that would transform my body’: All her life, DAISY BUCHANAN thought being slim would ‘fix’ her… but now she has lost four stone, she realises her problem wasn’t weight – it was eating to numb her emotions

Thus far, I’ve managed to stick to my New Year’s resolutions. I resolve that I will not drop a jean size. 

I refuse to work on my abs. I am not embarking on a ‘healthy’ regimen that requires me to live on boiled eggs and green juice.

In fact, I have promised myself that this isn’t going to be a year of change. For me, 2022 will be the year of no dieting.

I’ll admit this is unusual. Normally, towards the end of January, I’m struggling to stick to a restrictive, complicated way of eating and feeling miserable and exhausted.

I tried the Atkins diet and spent months dreaming of toast. I tried the Sirt food diet — it worked for Adele — but gave up after I broke my NutriBullet juicer by accidentally blending a spoon. I’ve tried . . . well, let’s just say I’ve tried it all.

Sticking to a diet can feel like the hardest thing in the world. But, believe me, accepting yourself is even harder.

Weighty issue: Struggling to get into a size 16, Daisy, then 33, decided she had to go on what would be her last diet

Weighty issue: Struggling to get into a size 16, Daisy, then 33, decided she had to go on what would be her last diet

Like so many women, I wasted years looking for the silver bullet that would transform my body and, more importantly, my life. You don’t drink revolting concoctions of kale and cayenne pepper unless you truly believe happiness might be lurking at the bottom of the glass.

Now, finally, I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. And it’s not because I did finally lose the weight. Because, as I have discovered, it wasn’t stopping eating food that proved the key, but stopping eating my feelings.

My obsession with my size began when I was teased at school as a chubby five-year-old. I had never thought about my body before, let alone considered that there might be something wrong with it.

But after those taunts, I started to feel ashamed of myself. I became very shy, hoping not to attract anyone’s attention — and I took refuge in food. It was the only thing that cheered me up.

I was still a little girl when I first saw an advert for SlimFast on TV. Amazing! I loved milkshakes — and I really loved the idea that if I drank them for two weeks, I could ‘fix’ myself. I’d stop being fat and I’d stop being bullied.

I begged Mum to buy me some, but she laughed: ‘Don’t be silly, you’re a growing girl!’

Still, when things were really bad at school, I would daydream about the future. As soon as I was a grown up, I was going to go on the SlimFast diet, transform my body and have a brilliant life.

Daisy is pictured above in 2018

Daisy is pictured above in 2018

It was difficult to make Mum understand. Not only was she naturally slim, but she thought that it was vain to care so much about the way you looked. ‘It’s what’s inside that counts!’ she would tell me.

I knew she meant well, but she had no idea what it was like to feel ashamed of your body.

By the time I began secondary school, a competitive girls’ grammar, the bullying had stopped but I still felt self-conscious. There was an unspoken pressure to be clever, pretty and thin.

For the first time, I had a little bit of independence — and access to a vending machine. I became locked in a cycle of bingeing, making myself sick and starving myself, becoming increasingly secretive about what, where and when I ate.

Aged 15, I realised my ‘diet’ was ruling my life — and ruining it. My obsession made parties, dates and sleepovers a huge source of anxiety. During class, I felt simultaneously tired and wired, which played havoc with my studies.

I realised that the future I dreamed of depended on getting good exam results. So I tried to eat ‘normally’.

It was a struggle, but it probably saved my life. Getting better grades boosted my confidence, but something even more significant was happening. I was starting to feel happy. When eating wasn’t an obsession, my world started to open up. I started to wonder whether I had dreams and ambitions beyond ‘being thinner’.

Yet my relationship with food and my body remained complicated. My weight fluctuated. At the height of my eating disorder, I was desperate to maintain a weight of eight-and-a-half stone, but the number on the scales still kept creeping up.

By the time I left school, I was a size 12 to 14, and mostly felt curvy and confident. At university, and in a bad relationship, I buried my feelings in pasta, chocolate and wine and, soon, I couldn’t zip up my size 16 trousers.

Then I broke up with my boyfriend and felt literally and figuratively lighter. I wasn’t thinking about food at all, and I was a size 12 again. This pattern continued all the way through my 20s.

I felt defined by those clothes labels, haunted by my ‘thin’ clothes and my ‘fat’ clothes. Deep down, I knew that being slim wasn’t going to make me happy — but when I was happier, I was slimmer, because I wasn’t abusing food. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that if I could ‘fix’ my body first, my feelings would be fixed, too.

When I met my future husband at the end of my 20s, I was a fairly cheerful size 12/14. We did what so many couples do, and bonded over indulgent dinners, cocktails and ice cream. My writing career was beginning to take off, and I published my first books.

Life was good.

I should have been at my happiest, but I was struggling. I never felt good enough. I hated seeing pictures of myself at events on Instagram. After giving a prestigious TEDx talk in 2015, all I could think about was how much weight I’d gained. I wanted to love my body, but couldn’t. And I felt ashamed of my shame.

For the next three years, I was always either bingeing or starving myself.

I kept telling myself that my problem was temporary. I just needed to go on a diet and ‘sort myself out’. Happiness was on the horizon and I could get there if only I was a stone lighter, or a dress size smaller. I thought that if I could get back to my ‘old’, slimmer body, I’d regain my self-esteem. I didn’t understand that self-esteem needed to come first, and I needed to value my body and nourish it properly.

Over the years, I’d started to use food as a drug. Because I was always trying to police my eating, it had become my forbidden pleasure. Binge eating was a way of numbing my raging emotions.

I couldn’t stop comparing myself to my friends and feeling ashamed of my jealousy. So I swallowed it down, literally.

Food itself wasn’t the problem, but the way I ate it. I restricted myself in the day and ate whatever I wanted at night, but would let myself get so hungry that once I started eating, I couldn’t stop.

I’d dispose of my crisp packets and chocolate bar wrappers in public bins. ‘It’s normal to have a treat,’ I’d think, ignoring the little voice whispering: ‘If this is normal, why are you doing it in secret?’

At my heaviest, in my early 30s, I weighed 15 st 7 lb. According to the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart, I was obese. Though I had to buy new clothes as a result, I was so unhappy in my own skin that I was even avoiding changing rooms.

In the autumn of 2018, when I was 33 and I couldn’t zip up an M&S size 16 skirt, I decided I urgently needed to go on another diet. I had no idea it would be my last.

Happy and healthy: Daisy lost 4 st and learned to respect food

Happy and healthy: Daisy lost 4 st and learned to respect food

A friend recommended a plan that focused as much on cooking as it did eating. Yes, she’d lost weight, but the other benefits had been even bigger; she was sleeping better, she felt calm and her energy levels were up.

So I decided to give it a go.

Under the rules, I couldn’t binge or starve. I had to eat at least three meals a day and, more importantly, plan them. I had to cook with raw ingredients. It forced me to spend time in the kitchen, chopping and peeling, instead of simply sticking things in the microwave.

I had to respect the food I was going to eat and I had to respect my body and my appetite. In doing so, I learned to respect myself.

It was not a silver bullet. It was really, really hard. Because while it didn’t leave me hungry, it forced me to address how estranged I’d become from true hunger. I started to notice that every time I felt sad, anxious, angry, frustrated or bored, a little voice whispered: ‘Eat something.’ There are only so many bananas you can eat before you have to address what’s really bothering you.

Temporarily taking alcohol out of the equation was a revelation, too, albeit an uncomfortable one. Deep down, I knew my drinking had been sliding out of control, but because I wasn’t blacking out, throwing up or behaving in a way that was worrying anyone, I wanted to believe my relationship with alcohol was fine.

I realised that I’d been turning to wine whenever life felt too difficult. I hadn’t realised how unhappy I was, because I hadn’t allowed myself to feel any emotions. I’d told myself my bingeing didn’t matter because the prospect of a brand new diet was always around the corner; I hadn’t realised that my body was never the problem. The work needed to start in my brain.

So I kept working.

I made a promise to myself; I’d eat when I was hungry and I could have a drink or a treat when I was happy, proud or celebrating — but I’d stop using food or alcohol to distract myself when I was feeling low.

I was stunned to discover that if I followed my rule, I didn’t want to binge. A glass of wine didn’t have to become a bottle. A couple of biscuits was enough.

Over the next year I lost weight, slowly but steadily, dropping three dress sizes and 4 st. I didn’t avoid changing rooms, and I could wear whatever I wanted.

Finally, I’d got to my ‘happy’ place. Or so I thought.

Because while I’d previously believed getting to a certain size would mean I’d never be unhappy again, on reaching that size I realised my mistake. Life could be just as hard in smaller jeans if the ‘new’ you isn’t actually new at all.

Losing inches wasn’t what had cause me to shed my unhappiness — after all I’d lost weight before over the years and still been utterly miserable.

Instead, what had really helped me, and I believe can help women of any size, was finally allowing myself to feel my emotions, rather than numbing or suffocating them with food.

Doing this made me realise that I have an enormous appetite for life — one I’d been denying for reasons beyond my weight worries.

I thought my body was getting in my way and I could do bigger things if I was smaller. Yet, over time, I realised my body had never been holding me back; in fact, it was my fear of failure.

I’ve always been ambitious, and passionate about my writing career. But I had mistaken my hunger for success for a greed that I had to suppress. If I didn’t admit what I really wanted, then I wouldn’t be heartbroken when my dreams didn’t come true.

I’d started writing a novel and abandoned it, thinking I wasn’t talented or focused enough to make it work. But after I started to change my relationship with food, my relationship with my ambition changed for the better. I found the courage to pick up the project and finish it. The novel — Insatiable — was published at the start of 2021.

Now, I love food, but I have much more respect for it — and for myself. I know that when life gets tough, there will always be part of me that longs to eat and drink the pain away, but I simply have to sit with my feelings.

Working my emotional muscles is harder, and more satisfying, than any gym session I have ever done.

I spent a long time waiting to lose weight so that my life could start. But it was only when I lost the emotional weight I was carrying around that I became truly happy.

Without food as my crutch, life is harder — but it’s honestly so much more fulfilling.