When I went away to university, I was reasonably fit and slim at around 9st. I maintained this for the first couple years, but then the effects of too many nights out to the pub and unhealthy student grub added a good stone or so of weight onto my 5’3” frame. I was still in the “slim” category, just with a larger waist size in my jeans and more in the chest area than I’d ever had before. I ate whenever I felt like it, which was most definitely not at set mealtimes! I almost never had a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner; it was usually something from the takeaway or deli for lunch (I didn’t often wake up before lunchtime), snacking throughout the day on biscuits or cheese, maybe pasta around tea-time as another snack, then whatever chippy was still open after the pub for dinner. My favourite was the Canadian classic, poutine. Yes, that’s chips with cheese curds and gravy – and the wonder that more Canadians are not obese!
I went on to study for another degree after I finished my first, moving to Edinburgh and retaining the rubbish eating habits I’d picked up at uni. I’d never had much experience of processed foods before as my mum is super-cook and prepares every single meal painstakingly by hand. This is one lady who does not bend to the pressures of packaged foods, and there were no TV dinners in my house! Occasionally we had the odd pizza, but my dad never really took to it and to this day will only partake of a pizza if it’s of the thin crust Italian variety (as opposed to the doughy mess they try to fob off on you at Pizza Hut, one of my most hated eating establishments). The closest I came to fizzy juice was Orangina, though I did sneak a few cream sodas at school from the vending machine. My mum is a big fan of fresh juices, and my favourites as a kid were strawberry and watermelon. Nothing beats an ice cold watermelon juice in the summer. Nothing.
Well at uni, I discovered Irn Bru and takeaway pizzas, ready-meals and Supernoodles. The town I lived in when I first moved to Scotland had a small Tesco on the main street and an only-slightly-larger Safeway slightly out of town. By my third year there I had discovered a few delis, but I was still not quite brave enough to venture into the local butchers with the half cow carcasses hanging in the window. The kitchen in our shared flat was a mess anyways, so we used the micro mostly and the oven and hob were only for heating things up rather than anything more adventurous.
When I finally moved out of student digs, I started cooking a bit more for myself. I was living in the east end of Edinburgh with a couple flatmates in a tiny two-bedroom flat we crammed into, with a decent sized kitchen and a Sainsburys across the road. I ate a lot of udon noodles that year, but I also went out clubbing every night of every weekend as well, and I had to walk 20 minutes into the town centre every day. There was exercise to be had, and out of necessity (and lack of a bus pass) I remained reasonably fit and healthy, though a bit on the chubby side at 10st.
When I bought my own flat, things started going a bit downhill as far as my weight was concerned. Or should that be “uphill”? I had a proper kitchen now, and I had three boy flatmates who loved to eat. I fed us all roast duck, lamb chops, steak with creamy peppercorn sauce…all the tasty, heavy, calorie-rich things the boys liked to eat, with not a green vegetable or salad in sight. In a year and a half I gained almost 3st (that’s almost 42 lbs of excess weight I packed on). I still went out every night at the weekends, and I was still reasonably fit and healthy considering my size (an ample size 14 but more realistically a 16).
I pretended I was ok with being this size, but I hated it. I hated going into shops and either having to buy the largest size they offered, or not being able to fit into anything at all. Topshop was a nightmare! I had a rough year, partied too much after a great loss of a good friend who died in the summer of 2004, and generally burned out before I was halfway through my second degree. I took a step away from the people involved in my life at this point – it took me a good year after but I did manage to eventually get my life back.