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Notes to self: Globetrotting writer Gaby Doman on food and femininity

Our columnist reflects on the everyday ups and downs of being a modern woman

Tabloid on Saturday

One of the funniest things I find about being a woman is how rigid an idea a lot of people have over what feminine is. On paper, I suppose I don’t sound very feminine; I like lifting weights, most of my friends are boys, I’m training to be a personal trainer, I hate shopping, my room is always a mess, I don’t cook, I don’t want babies, I only have a few pairs of shoes, I travel really light and I eat loads. Of course, it’s quite possible to be all of those things and still be feminine but some people like the idea that all women love shoes, yoga, salads and spending three hours getting ready to go out.

But the thing that gets to me most is the idea about what I should eat as a woman. Everyone seems to have an opinion on my body and what I should feed it. You know what I mean; when you pile your plate up high, people say “you’re not going to eat all that, are you?” Yes, I am. Or people will make comments on the healthiness of your food — perhaps they think you’re eating too many eggs or that peanut butter is very high in fat and you shouldn’t spread it so thick or that bananas are very sugary and you’d be better off with an apple. It’s endless. I can barely eat a meal without someone critiquing it. That’s why I much prefer to eat alone; I give myself a lot less criticism than other people do — and I also get to lick the yoghurt pot out without people seeing.

It drives me mad. I’m not overweight and I never have been and I can out-run and out-lift most people who offer me advice on what I should be doing to fuel my body. Just being a woman seems to mean I should know and care how many calories are in everything, be afraid of carbs and pretend to be full from eating a cup full of leaves.

A couple of years ago, I definitely had what I would call disordered eating, and sometimes I still struggle a little bit. I was bigger than I am now, but I barely ate. It started off with a simple diet (I was clueless on nutrition then) and then rapidly led to more and more cutting out of foods until I ate toast for breakfast, a small salad for lunch and a yoghurt for dinner. All the while I was swimming, walking, running and doing yoga every single day.

I don’t know how I didn’t collapse. I weighed myself every day and if I was unhappy with the number I saw in the morning, I’d spend the rest of the day making even more cutbacks and working out harder. It got to the point where I was too scared to drink water because it showed up as weight on the scale. I remember thinking I’d been greedy when I drank a smoothie and ate a sandwich and a yoghurt in a day. Nowadays that would be lunch, not a day’s worth of calories.

I don’t feel feminine when I eat Greek yoghurts followed by egg and bean salads and a protein shake because of the amount of attention it gets, but I don’t care. I wouldn’t be looking after my body if I munched on a granola bar and sipped on a green tea instead. I eat enough to support my active lifestyle and give my muscles enough fuel to recover from heavy workouts and make me stronger. Because being stronger is a much better goal than having “xylophone ribs”, like I was desperate for before.

Unfortunately, women aren’t supposed to want to be strong. We’re supposed to want to starve ourselves to the point of muscle wastage and frailty so that our bones jut out and we look like perfect coat hangers for our clothes. We’re supposed to nibble on salads and fill up on water and pretend we’re happy to eat like that and that we’re not eyeing up our date’s creamy pasta dish with envy. Well no, sorry. The fact I can get my butt into a jeans four sizes smaller, am fit and — most importantly — barely ever get ill is testament to the fact that most women need to eat more. Forget the juice diets, the master cleanses, the no-carbs after five and the bland salads; and everything else that will bore you to tears and wreck your metabolism. I chose adequate calories, healthy meal choices without cutting out food groups, feeling sated, energetic and not at all guilty for having the occasional indulgence. It’s the most delicious revelation I’ve ever had.