INTERVIEW // LISA BEASLEY "HOW I LET GO OF DIETING + LEARNED TO LOVE MY BODY"
Lisa Beasley spent most of her childhood worrying about what she was eating and how she looked to the outside world. Until her world became so overwhelming from looking after her Mum, juggling family life and a job that went against the grain of who she was. She shares her story about how she let go of dieting and learned to love her body.
Interview by sam geddes
What was life like before you did body positive, what did you do?
I was a Midwife. That was the job I thought I would do forever.
I loved being a Midwife. It was a very woman focused and supportive role with high risk pregnancy screening and counselling, I did this for over 10 years. Then I moved into a more corporate role basically writing reports all day, every day. I found this really difficult because it wasn't aligned with what I'm about which is connecting with women and helping women.
When did the shift happen?
In the Embrace film there's a quote from a guy talking about The Sidney Skinny challenge , he says "don't wait for one of the big four things to happen before you change your life" I recall the four things were Divorce, Death, Redundancy and Disease.
So, essentially, my Mum died last March. I had been working in this corporate NHS job trying to look after my Mum who had very poor health for many many years, I was totally overwhelmed all of the time and then she died. I couldn't go back to work, I knew I couldn't because it was a really toxic environment. That is when I got to the place were I decided "I am not doing it to myself anymore". It was a massive shift.
I took time to think about what I wanted out of life, what would make life worth living again, because it was so difficult; it happened over many months really. Then something popped into my inbox that really grabbed me, it was about mindful eating, I thought this is me, I felt like the woman talking to me on this snippet of video understood me about the way I had been using food to cope.
Before my Mum died I did have an understanding that I couldn't go on like that, you just kind of carry on the treadmill, don't you.
what is your first memory of the kind of relationship you had with food?
When I was really young.
My parents divorced when I was about 6, I remember going to my Dad's house around every fortnight, the first thing I would do was go straight to the kitchen cupboard to find the biscuits, then eating a whole packet of Jaffa Cakes.
What I know now is that I was trying to self-soothe, I was really mixed up; I didn't want to go to my Dad's because it was complicated - classic trying to make myself feel better. There was a lot of that behaviour going on when I was young.
I gained weight. My mum sent me to a dietitian, in her defence she was trying to do something to help, but it wasn't a dietitian I needed it was someone like I am now.
As it was the 1970's the focus was about losing weight, so that was my Mum's focus; I inherited all this 'I need to be thinner' 'I'm bad if I eat what I am not supposed to eat'. All that really negative stuff around food.
After my Mum had died I found a load of letters that I'd written to her when I'd gone to Australia on a gap year, she kept everything; these letters were so painful to read. They were all about "I've been bad, If only I could lose weight, I don't know why I do this?" Reading it now, I don't want that for anybody; I know how all that feels - it is so unnecessary.
I was young I should have been enjoying my life.
How did this have an affect on you as you went into adulthood?
I learnt from my Mum that it was really important to be on a diet most of the time. So, we would eat food like tinned tomatoes on toast. The culinary delight of the 70's!
My weight really fluctuated, which it will do if you are using food to comfort yourself. There were periods at school when I was really quite heavy and I had the 'not fitting in', 'feeling out of place', 'the boys won't like me because I'm bigger' thoughts. Then I lost loads of weight at school and I look back when I was really thin and I looked bizarre - I was self conscious however I looked.
Massive periods of dieting. Massive periods of control.
One time I had not had chocolate for about 8 months, I had been giving myself a metaphorical pat on the back, then the next day I was back on the chocolate, loads of chocolate because I'd fallen of the wagon, as they say.
When you had a negative feeling of what you looked like and how you felt, how were you qualifying these thoughts?
I can remember things that people said in my family my Dad's Mother saying I had 'hefty thighs', didn't feel very nice, she also said of my other Grandma's family 'they run to fat'...that was really helpful - not!
Our society is like that - fat prejudice. 'Fat politics' are everywhere and once you do something like I do you pick up on these messages. Unfortunately, people don't realise they are saying it.
It was normal. I had all the information fed to me on a daily basis.
How do you feel the media could take more responsibility and what is their role, have they got a role or are we using it as an excuse?
They could so much.
The other day I was sat in the local coffee shop, I was getting a coffee and having a look at the paper.
In the paper there was a few articles relating to body image, the one that stood out most was in the style section, it said "my advice for all women is wear Spanx" the Style Adviser was only working with women specifically of sizes 6-12 and it was written like 'these are the wonderful glittery people that I work with' - that was in a 'quality' Newspaper.
I understand what is underneath it now.
There is a real political piece to it and I am not sure whether the rest of the world is ready to hear that.
What can we do as parents to empower our children to feel good about their body?
A lot of the women come to me have this as their main motivation, they don't want their children to inherit the stuff they've learnt.
It is all about what kind of things we say, for example, not commenting on your own weight or grabbing pieces of yourself and saying 'oh, I wish that wasn't there' - not criticising our own shapes or weight. Not commenting on their weight or shape. Not actively trying to stop them eating certain things.
I wrote this blog piece on " The Fat politics in our families..." it talked about conversations at the table I'd heard in my own family on why 'some food isn't allowed', some food has to be just this much, 'this is a portion' and how boys were commended for eating a lot and girls wouldn't be.
We mustn't make food an issue, this is part of Mindful Eating, all food should be allowed - if it's banned it becomes more desirable and then it can make us feel bad.
It is difficult for teenagers growing up in this day and age with social media, which didn't exist when you and I were young.
Even in my house where I work really hard to send helpful messages to my daughter, the reality is she goes to school for several hours a day and lives in a world where appearance is very important to her. She worries about her appearance. In the morning I'm asked 'hows my hair?' 'Are my eyebrows equal?' At least five times before school, most days.
If this is happening in our house it must be happening in other people houses.
I do open up conversations with her about what she's watching and hearing and checking in on the reality of this information. I'm regularly sense checking with her, in a gentle way. I've learnt that its no good getting cross telling her how things are as it's not like that for her she's experiencing her reality. All I can do is role model in a positive way and hope those messages feed in.
She can be really sensible too! She'll come and say something like "my friends are on a diet and I keep telling them it's ridiculous and they should love themselves for who they are." She can see that.
As women I think it is important to work this stuff out for yourself first, because if you're a Mum and you're stuck in the 'I hate my shape if only I was thinner' even if you're not verbalising that the message will be coming across somehow.
What is your motivation, what motivates you everyday to get out of bed?
What I do now for work is my reason for being.
Husband and children aside, they of course are my reason for being.
This is my world. It's not something I pick up and put down it's going on in my head all the time. Sometimes I wish a little bit less! It is an all-consuming desire to get women out of that cycle.
What is your life motto?
Kindness - the way people treat people is so important.
Who inspires you?
Taryn Brumfitt who is behind Embrace. What she has achieved and her mission, the one that I have - Liberating Women from body and image issues.
What is the No.1 question you are asked?
Usually it's about weight loss.
Some people have the misconception that the programme I offer is about weight loss. It's actually the opposite it's about taking the focus off weight loss. Which is part of the learning, as that desire is so ingrained for people. It was letting go of that desire that enabled me to approach things differently. If you are always thinking "If only I could lose weight, if only I could lose weight" that is what drives the disordered eating behavior in the first place.
What can women expect when they attend one of your workshops?
It is partly about Mindful Eating.
That was the beginning of my journey of shifting the way that I saw myself and resolve what I was doing with food. If you don't look at the 'why' you just carry on as you were.
The Mindful Eating piece is so important - but I realise it is much more than that.
If you are someone who comes and you learn about mindful eating but you can't let go of wanting to be thinner, it's not going to work; the mindset change has to be about lots of other elements as well. If I don't help people recognise the messages that they are getting from society then they just accept them. It is a much bigger offering than 'Mindful Eating'. It's about letting go of dieting, learning to understand the messages they are receiving and how to challenge them. Other things that we look at are clothes shopping, practical strategies like 'what can I say to my daughter?', Body Image work - it's such a waste of time worrying about your weight and what your body looks like. It has taken me 44 years and I don't want that for other women.
For people that are ready to do the work it is so liberating.
What does 2018 hold for Lisa and The Body Positive Movement?
It feels like there is a real energy around this now. I am proud to continue to be a part of that going into 2018.
I hope that people will become more conscious about the choices they are making.
How important do you feel it is for women to speak their truth and be vulnerable?
Massively, I realise now that the eating I used to do was about stuffing down feelings and not saying how I felt when I wanted to. If you don't state your truth and speak your mind how can you ever fix the 'thing'? It's hugely important and something that I strive to do.
Do you feel when you have spoken and are listening to yourself that it has been powerful in its own right?
Yes. I can easily go to a self doubt place. I think so many of us are fearful, scared and have that feeling of impostor syndrome. Then I hear myself on a Podcast or something, I listen back to it then I think blimey I do know what I'm talking about!
It's excruciating the first time you do it and then when I listen back to it - I'm thinking WOW.