An extract from Liesal Jones’ new memoir Body Lengths.
I am always on a diet, always counting calories, obsessing over food, and always, always hungry. I am insatiable. I cannot eat enough. I am still a teenager, with a break-neck teenage metabolism, and after swimming and training for hours each day, I never seem to fill myself up. And yet I still try to diet.
Last year was ‘My Year Without Chocolate’, in which I didn’t eat a single square of chocolate. Not one piece. It was all my own idea and it nearly killed me – very nearly broke my spirit – but I’m sure it went some way towards keeping the kilos off. I don’t drink, I don’t eat cheese. I skip ice-cream, hot chips, burgers and pies. The sight of a piece of mud cake can reduce me to tears, worse if it has chocolate icing. Christmas is the hardest, because it’s peak training season. Nationals are in March, so I have to be extra strict at Christmas.
And all of this has to come from me. I am the one who has to stick to the regime. Beyond the beady eye of my coach, it is up to me. When I’m at home, when I’m out with friends, I have to be good. I need the willpower of a saint. But I am strong and determined.
Also, I am convinced I am fat.
Whenever I have to stand on the pool deck in my togs, listening to my body being discussed like it’s an engine and not the arms, legs, thighs and stomach of a teenage girl, I am self-conscious and miserable. I think I am just too fat.
Part of the reason for this is that there is nothing strategic about my diet, nor about the diet of anyone who I know. Despite the ad hoc appearance of dietitians in our lives (such as at the Fukuoka World Championships, where they popped up with that salmon cake), we receive no sustained scientific dietary advice. The only dietitians in my life are affiliated with the QAS, and they’re seen as extraneous: outside help you can seek if you really need to shed some kilos or put on some bulk.