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Louise McSharry: My struggle with body image

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Louise McSharry

Louise McSharry

Louise McSharry

I met a friend of mine for coffee last week. The thing is, I don't drink coffee, and we were in Brother Hubbard, which makes the world's greatest brownies, so I ordered hot chocolate and a brownie.

She ordered a healthy salad plate because she hadn't had lunch and I joked with the waitress that I was ordering a meal solely consisting of chocolate, 'ha ha'. That was the first apology, and over the course of our catch-up, I apologised four more times for my order. 'This is a real treat for me', 'I'm really not eating this stuff at the moment', 'I'm only going to eat half of this now', etc etc.

I'm really obsessing about food at the moment. As someone going through chemotherapy, I am weighed at every appointment. The 'cocktail' of drugs which makes up the treatment is made specifically for each individual, and how much you weigh is one element considered when they're making it up. Also, from my understanding, some weight gain is a good sign during treatment. It indicates that you're getting back to normal.

Before I was diagnosed, I was steadlily losing weight. I was seeing a personal trainer three times a week and eating a low-carb, high-protein diet. The weight was falling off me. At appointments with the consultant, when trying to get to the bottom of what I affectionately called my 'mystery illness', he firmly told me that he wanted to see some weight gain, or at the very least, no more loss. 'Fat chance', I thought quietly to myself. I'd been putting off losing this weight for years, I wasn't about to stop now.

I'd be fooling myself if I thought my weight loss was only down to my new regime. As I became sicker, my appetite disappeared, and I ate less and less. For the first time in my whole life, I knew what it was like to leave half a plate of food in a restaurant, and do you know what? I loved it. It was unbelievably liberating not to think about food all day long, but aside from that, I was proud of myself in a really gross way. I loved feeling like a dainty little lady as I pushed my plate over to my boyfriend, exclaiming, 'I can't possibly finish that!' I felt like an acceptable human.

My appetite came back just after I started treatment, and I've been gaining weight ever since. To say that this has tormented me is an understatement. One day recently, my fiancé came home from work and found me in a manic state babbling about the fact that all I'd done all day was think about food, and it was true.

It is so upsetting that gaining weight has had this affect on me, and that I have such issues around food. I am angry about it, because it really shouldn't be this way. I shouldn't be spending the biggest health battle of my life so far worrying about my appearance. That's what it's about at the moment, by the way, it's no longer a getting fit and healthy thing. Even if I didn't have cancer, the level of thought I give my weight would be unhealthy, but then that's the society we live in. It has given me such a messed-up set of priorities. I hate myself for hating myself, and for placing so much value on my shape and size.

I've obviously been thinking about this a lot. Where the thoughts come from, and how I can change my value system to make my weight less of a priority. I cried this morning looking at a photo someone posted on Facebook yesterday. It's getting loads of likes and kind comments. It's of my fiancé and I dancing together at a wedding last weekend - I'm laughing and saying something to him and he's smiling, having leaned down listen. All anyone else can see is how much we love each other, and all I could see was the flab on my arm, my double chin, and how wide I look. That is not the way I want to live my life. Apologising for eating a bloody brownie and missing joyful, beautiful moments because I'm thinking about how unacceptable my body is.

I don't really know what the answer is yet, but I'm working on it. It's going to take a while to undo the damage begun when I was put on my first diet at age seven, but I'm determined to get to a place where my weight is not more important than my health.

Irish Independent