Damned if I do, Damned if I don’t

Trigger warning: Discusses eating disorders, mental health and body image. 

I actually had another couple of pieces planned for today, but had some things that I want to express first.

For much of my life I have not had the healthiest of relationships with food. Before I knew what food was and that my body needed it for sustenance and to survive, I had an issue with it. As an baby, my mother was unable to get me to eat food. Something that she took me to the health visitor for, up to that point she had taken to extreme measures of making runny Weetabix and serving it to me in a bottle with the top cut off. The health visitor fobbed my mum off with a response of ‘as long as I’m eating I’m fine’. 

Me just under 2 years old.

I didn’t eat solids in a ‘normal’ manner until after my little sister was born and had been weaned and I witnessed that. I was over three years old by then. As I grew and became vocal, if you asked me the issue I would tell you I was scared of being fat. I had never been fat, but looking back and even thinking about it I can remember how terrified I was of that. I always felt like I needed to lose weight. Meal times were the biggest issue for me. I wasn’t a breakfast person, and my father was always chasing me with toast and demands that I have something before I left for school. 

I couldn’t ever see how slim I was, convinced that I could always be slimmer. I hid food, and threw food away, flushed it down the toilet. Did everything that I could to get out of eating. My parents, who worked in the mental health field recognised my problem, even as the health professionals around me did not. My mother would often ask me what I wanted to eat in compromise, and went out of her way to ensure that she could get the foods that I asked for. This meant searching far and wide when the local butcher shut down and nowhere else made their tomato and beef sausages that I loved to eat. She would buy entire entenmann’s chocolate fudge cakes for me to eat, that my siblings were not allowed to touch. Barter and bargain with me on how much food would be put on my plate, I’d cycle through claims that I didn’t like certain foods, one week it could be salads and I didn’t like or want tomato, cucumber or lettuce. I can recall my mother counting out cucumber slices, chips and other foods as she placed them on my plate because I had decided I was only going to eat 6 cucumbers or 10 chips that day. All while, I would be hovering to make sure she wasn’t tricking me. Often I would be the last one at the dining room table as I wasn’t allowed to leave until I had cleared my plate. As I got older, she would have me dish out my own meals, we had an agreement that I would eat everything that I put on my plate. That was a lot of bartering and haggling between us. 

I continued to grow with the fear of being fat, but I also grew into an awareness that my eating habits were not ok. I challenged myself one year with a new years resolution to try some new foods every month and to eat three times a day. I settled into routines but admittedly better habits but I still always worried about being fat. I suffered with tonsillitis, that led to them being removed during the school holidays when I was 9/10. I have also struggled with various digestive issues throughout my life. What came first? Im not sure. Thats like asking was it the chicken or the egg. 

As an adult I could still wear and fit clothes that I wore as a teenager. I lost a lot of weight while I was at uni because I bowed down to external pressures and comments. For the first time in my adult life I was wearing size 0. I had the unhealthy habit of living of off cheeseburgers, hot wings, Doritos and Evian, something that only changed during my journey to veganism. It was no secret that I was really scared of being fat. I didn’t have the best body image and was always super hard on myself. I can remember meeting a friends mum during uni for the first time and she came to hug me with the words “don’t worry you cant catch fat”. 

Wearing a vest top pulled from my 13 year old wardrobe at a ‘Army dance’ student event

Seven years ago I was in a car accident, I may share on that another time, the post injuries treatment left me being classed as obese by my GP. I suddenly found myself fat, and many people that knew me were commenting on the weight gain, even knowing I was on a large amount of medication and had had multiple surgeries. My worst fear, something I had worried about my entire life had come true. The necessity of taking medications and the reality of having to eat full meals to do so, stopped me from reverting back to past bad habits. My GP referred me to a specialist who reviewed my diet, at that point I was fully on plant based and determined that the only help they could give was referring me the gym with a subsidised membership and sending me off to Slimmingworld for free. Limited with what I could do I took to spin classes with vigour. Low impact, and not too much of a strain on my spine I found a love for it that I hadn’t expected. My body shape changed along with my mindset and I found that I was able to embrace the bigger thighs and love the body that I have. Its not been an easy journey, according to my BMI I still have a way to go. I have learnt that I don’t need to restrict my food intakes in order to stay slim, I am eating more per day and more regularly then I ever have in my life. For that I credit food optimising and the Slimmingworld plan.  I learnt to be more compassionate to those around me and understand that not only do people come in all shapes and sizes but people can carry ‘extra’ weight through no fault of their own. 

Spinning and Slimmingworld journey…..Left is at my biggest.

So why do I say I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t? 

Throughout all of my years of issues with food, I have also struggled with body image. In primary school and secondary school I was called Teeny or Teeny tiny because I was so slim and slender. My mother would buy the smallest available size clothes and then tailor them in to ensure they fit me. A lot of the time I used to dress with the confidence I wished to have. This continued on into adulthood til I had my car accident and I came to the mindset that I didn’t want to care so much what other people think. I get comments if I don’t post pictures of myself and comments when I do. I am aware that my body is disproportioned. If I post pictures ‘hiding’ any chest I get comments that I must be ashamed, if I post pictures ‘showing’ my chest I get comments that I must want attention on it. 

At a time when people were constantly commenting on my body size and shape.

Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t. 

I will not be ashamed of my body. I will not allow others to shame or dictate when it comes to my body. It has been through a lot and is still going strong. It has weathered Swine flu, meningitis, 12 back/spine surgeries, ruptured organ/internal bleeding, suspected Covid-19 and more. I am pro-choice in all areas of life, irrespective of my own opinions.  So the next time you think to give me your twopence, stick it in your own piggy bank! 

Little Rock, Arkansas. 2016

Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

Me: I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it.

Them: Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

My relationship with Veganism is a strange and tense one. I did not become a Vegan by choice, nor do I profess to be a perfect one. My relationship with food in general is a complex one and one that I wont be fully getting into with this article. I am a Vegan. A Vegan by circumstance and force. Here’s how.

Growing up I was a fussy eater. I would go through cycles with food. I hated eggs. Didn’t like the look. Didn’t like the taste. I’d flip between refusing to eat the yoke and refusing to eat the white, my mother cutting away which ever I was refusing at the time leaving me with either a fried yoke or fried white. When I left home at 18, I stopped actively eating eggs. If I could request a version of something with no eggs I did. 

Milk, was a next battle. It had always left me with an unsettled stomach. At a young age I recognised that I didn’t like the taste of milk. My frequent and firm refusal to drink it during refreshments time in Reception, resulted in the school calling my parents in for a discussion. This was the remnants of the free school milk era that Margaret Thatcher had tried to end in order to  cut spending so that they were able to honour the tax pledges they had made during the 1970 election. The free school milk had been around since the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act, but the combination of the taste and the upset it gave my stomach, I was never a fan. 

By the time I reached university I was consuming alternatives to animal dairy products. I relied heavily on substitutes such as the Soy and Almond milk by ALPRO. This meant that I was now not eating eggs and the only dairy product that I was eating was Cheese, because, well Cheese!

So thats a fairly easy thing to recite when eating out. No eggs. No dairy, but I don’t mind cheese. 

So how did everything else fall out of my diet?

I have touched on my very West Indian upbringing in previous articles. So to see where it all began to go wrong with meat, I need to take another trip back into my childhood. 

The 1980s and 1990s saw the UK witness an outbreak of  bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or as it became more commonly known, Mad Cows Disease. Over four million cows were destroyed in an effort to contain the outbreak, and 177 people died after contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) through eating infected beef. The outbreak of this disease and its ability to pass from infected meat and onto humans meant that it quickly disappeared from my childhood home. To be honest, while I can think back and remember the mass panic, I have no recollection of actively missing the presence of beef in my diet. In the mid 2000s I started university and like with most students, all semblance of a balanced diet went out the window. I am the first to admit that I survived on fast food, take out and junk food. I developed an unhealthy addiction to cheese burgers, McDonald’s ones if we are being honest here. Over time I began to find that eating them was making me ill. I was physically struggling to digest them and would often end up vomiting out of control requiring trips to A&E and medical intervention. It wasn’t just beef burgers that was doing this, I couldn’t eat mince in spaghetti bolognese, or have a steak and chips either. It was on my third or fourth trip to A&E when a consultant who had already treated me a couple times said “We have told you that you are allergic to beef. You have an intolerance to an enzyme in it. Stop eating it or we will stop treating you!” And so I stopped eating beef. 

If you’re paying attention to the list we have now dropped Eggs, Dairy (still clasping cheese), and no beef because i’m allergic to it. Still a fairly simple list to recite when dining out.  For a few years things were great. My digestive issues were no longer ruining my life thanks to the adjustments that I had made. Then one day lamb decided to ask ‘Hey, What about me?. I had only managed to cut beef out of my diet by heavily substituting it with the meats we get from sheep. I used minced lamb in bolognese sauce, in my homemade curry patties and I used lamb chunks in my stir fry. Not to mention the occasional lamb shank or lamp chops for a Sunday roast. 

Lamb began to give me the same issues that beef had been giving me and a discussion with my Dr drew the conclusion that all red meat was a no no for me, due to certain enzymes found in it.

So now its, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no red meat. Still simple enough, although choose foods when eating out was starting to get a little more complex for me.

I know you’re looking at the dietary progression and wondering how I jumped from No red meat to  no meat. The reason is very simple. I was out eating on a business lunch and had specifically checked with the restaurant to make sure there was no red meat in the food that I had ordered. It was a pan-asian restaurant but our waitress was adamant that the items I ordered were fine. At face value none of the items had red meat. By the time I returned to the office my stomach was doing somersaults. I was frantically thinking through everything that I had consumed that day, wondering if at some point I had decided to relax on my rules and eat something any way. I hadn’t. A quick phone call to the restaurant and a lot of insistence on my part led to the confession that a meat stock had been in one of the items that I had ordered and eaten. I left the office early that day, no longer able to function and adamant that my journey with all meat had ended.

So now we had, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat all all. I admit that this black out on all meat was a struggle for me mentally. Whilst I didn’t eat much pork due to a large portion of my family being Seventh Day Adventists, I lived for chicken wings. If I wasn’t eating cheeseburgers in uni, you would often catch me with a serving of hot wings from KFC or Sams. I can happily admit I was addicted to them. It was my go to order whenever I had to eat anywhere and they were on the menu. As an adult I would often stop off in the chicken shop near to my London flat on the way home and grab a portion fo wings and chips. Boss man was generous and with me being such a loyal customer her would always gift me with extra free wings. I can still hear how hard he laughed when I went into his shop and he automatically began to prepare my wings only for me to tell him I’d given up meat and could I just get a large chips with  hot sauce instead. He gave me the chips for free and told me he was wishing me luck because I looked like I needed it. 

With all of the above now cut out of my diet, I was left with fish. I love fish. Growing up in a West Indian household it was always present. I can recall my dad stating it “wasn’t a proper” meal if it didn’t include fish. I love Tuna steak, and smoked salmon, steamed fish and fish and Chips. There were very few fishes that I didn’t like to eat, even though I never liked nor ate seafood (my older sister told me as a child that prawns scream in your mouth as you eat them). 

The Caribbean is the cause of fish falling from my diet. My annual trips home for easter to visit my parents, saw me spoilt with getting to eat the fish the same day it had been caught. I never got to eat the fish that fresh in England and my taste buds mounted a revolt over it. I decided I wouldn’t eat fish unless I was in the Caribbean, but once a year is not enough and I lost the taste and desire for it.

So thats no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat and no fish. I was a vegetarian. Years of chipping away at my diet had left me with that reality. I was convinced that I couldn’t give up cheese, and even though it affected my digestive system as much as its cousin milk did, I just really liked the taste. The discovery of Vegan cheeses such as Violife, allowed me to finally give up cheese. I was super delighted to see that brands such as Pizza Hut and Papa Johns  offered Vegan Pizza options. I didn’t feel I was missing out by dropping cheese any more.

But Vegans don’t have the best reputations and I resented that my diet choices left me as part of that designation.  They are judge, holier than thou, militant for their cause and have garnered many negative stereotypes as a result.

Knowing all that, please act normal when I say  I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it. I’ll call myself a VEGAN but only by force. 


So on Sunday 16th May during @this_is_Jilo (Instagram tag) #SpotlightSundays (if you haven’t been joining in, what have you been doing? Don’t miss this Sundays one. Click her @ and follow her to get involved.)

Jilo Katter, founder of Spotlight Sundays

I shared out loud for the first time one of the stories from my upbringing that would probably cause a gasp and did bring outrage. 
As a little girl (and even as an adult I guess) I had the most over active imagination. This meant that many a night I would wake with a nightmare and run down the hallway to my parents room so scared that I would hold my breath in case any monsters might hear me (we’ve all done it) 

My mother, the Catholic that she is, would always point me in the direction of the Lord by telling me that it was ‘God punishing me because he had seen I was bad that day’. She would then make me get my bible and or rosary and pray. I would often fall back to sleep with my head buried in the bible so the written word must have given me some measure of comfort. However, on the nights that would have me sprinting back down the hallway a few hours later, my dad would just lift the bedcovers and let me sleep with them. I think this was from the age of 4-7ish (Yes I could read when I started playgroup but thats another story).
This memory flashed up in my head before Sunday and I took the opportunity presented by lockdown to call my mum out on it. Her response, she laughed and said ‘Well, you probably had been bad that day”.

In hindsight can look back age these memories and think maybe a Black mothers love is tough but she knows what the world has coming for us.

As you read the words on the pictures above you should know that I often gave as good as I got. I don’t hate God, nor has this made me wary of being Catholic. When it was no longer a forced requirement for me to go to Church, I still took myself along.

In hindsight can look back age these memories and think maybe a Black mothers love is tough but she knows what the world has coming for us. 

PSA – In the words of Jay-Z…..Allow me to reintroduce myself!

I honestly didn’t want to come into a new day dealing with the arguments of yesterday, but it seems that many have missed the motivation behind my parliament petition. So here we go. 

At no point have I said that I am relying on my ‘oppressor’ to teach me what it is to be black, or to love myself and my blackness in its entirety. 

I post I saw after launching my Parliament petition

So in the words of Jay Z, allow me to reintroduce myself…..

I am a first generation Black British citizen, one of five children, fourth born to skilled migrant and wind rush parents.

I was born, raised and educated in Hertfordshire on a council estate where I was a member of the ONLY Black family in the area and in the minority. A bicycle ride through town as a child was often met with by at least one member of the public giving me the finger across the throat signal. 

The only times in my childhood and youth that I got to experience not being in the minority was when I was solely with my immediate family, greater family, spending summers in Dominica/ Grenada, or once a year at Notting Hill Carnival before it lost its essence and became what it is today. 

I grew up the darkest member of my family, something that outsiders loved to remind me of on a daily basis. Questioning if all my siblings were 100% related to me and suggesting that perhaps I had a different mum or dad and I just wasn’t yet aware.

The last official photo of me without a racism scar on my face

I went to a primary school where on the first day I was called a liar and told that I couldn’t read, write my name or tie my own shoelaces etc. Resulting in my refusal to go back. 

I was one Black child in a classroom with 27 other students, all white. My first few years of education left me with a stab wound to the face for for the colour of my skin and the knowledge that my peers saw me as no better then an animal, akin to a baboon. My roots and confidence in myself are so strong that no wind can sway or pull me down. 

The strength, pride and love that my parents instilled in me did not change the ignorance of the majority that I was surrounded by. Even the strongest armour returns from battle with chinks. I want black history to be taught in schools to educate those who may not get the education at home, but to also ensure that we are nipping racism at the bud. Those 27 children have grown up to be adults in society, some may very well still be holding onto the prejudices that saw me bullied by them as a child. Becoming the very adults that govern this country. 

It is very easy to think solely of yourselves, but this selfish nature will not see any changes come. If my petition sees just ONE child not have to go through what I did in the education system then I can be happy with the changes I have inspired. 

I moved to London aged 18 and was met with a new host of prejudice. I became aware of the tensions and aggravations amongst the black population and diaspora happening elsewhere in the UK. I was suddenly teased for being ‘too white’, not something I ever imagined I would encounter in life. I got labelled a bounty and a coconut, and had questions thrown at me like ‘How was afternoon tea with the Queen?’ This was a whole new barrier that I was forced to break without knowing what were the best tools to do so. I have been to Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean that are not my own. I have seen the slave plantations with my own eyes and walked through them with my own feet. I have travelled to Ghana and bore witness to the slave castles and passed through the door of no return. A journey that many of my ancestors must also have taken. I ask questions whenever I do not know the answer to something and try to read up and learn whenever and wherever possible. This is for me. There is no pleasing some people and ultimately I have long realised that nothing I do will ever be enough.

Despite all of the above, one of the biggest lessons instilled in me as child, to treat everyone as equal, still stands. The experiences of my childhood and youth didn’t magically disappear once I became an adult. Remember those children grow up. They become the very adults who are your bosses, managers, supervisors and colleagues in the workplace. Mid 20s I was told by a white middle-classed manager, who disliked that I treated him no different to the gardener and the cleaning staff etc that life is not fair. He couldn’t understand why everyone from receptionists to SVPs would stop and talk to me at my desk or why I wouldn’t give him deference for his position. My response to him? “I am Black, Young (they originally dismissed me for the position because of my youth) and Female I don’t need anyone in this life to tell me that its not fair, least of all you.”

We always hear how strong black women are. And I agree, there is a strength within us that nothing can break. I look to Doreen Lawrence and Sybrina Fulton et al for not breaking when the world took their sons. But that is a further strength born by a pain that I don’t want to experience before I take action. Let me speak NOW!

So to the black people who came at me full force, this is for you. And to the people that told me I am not black enough, there are no levels to this. Your words do not make you a winner or give you a prize. 

I have a voice and I have a gift, so nothing you say to me will stop me from using it. I won’t argue with any of you on this matter again. I said what I said and i’ll say it again! I don’t want to send a child of mine into the same education system that I experienced and it saddens me that some of you do. 

Now I am going to go enjoy this beautiful morning, as I promised my mother she wasn’t going to wake up to any more surprises from me. 

To be Black AND British….

To be Black AND British

As a child, I shouldn’t have had to learn so quickly that ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. But being Black and British, this isn’t a lesson you have the choice of skipping. I have seen a post be retweeted a lot on twitter in the past couple of days and also surface on Instagram in which people say ‘to be black is to research racism in a country before booking your holiday/vacation’. This got me thinking and I wanted to take a moment to express what being black and British has meant for me.

To be Black AND British….Means that before you learn about primary colours, you must learn that you will hated for the colour of your skin.

To be Black AND British….is to be called a liar at any given time and have to prove otherwise. Always guilty, until proven innocent.

To be Black AND British…is to have your primary school blame you for anything that has been broken even when you are not the cause. To have them sit you in timeout and have your peers stay silent rather than confess or speak up.

To be Black AND British….is to be told you are not welcome at children’s parties and that your ‘sort’ is not who parents would like as a friend for their child.

To be Black AND British…is to experience acts of random violence without cause.

To be Black AND British….is to be pulled out of a mainstream education class and placed into the special needs one, with no confirmation that I should be there or approval from my parents.

To be Black AND British….is to not speak up on the racism treatments and behaviours because you don’t want to make more work for your parents.

To be Black AND British…..is to be told by your teacher that you must be sensitive to the little boy in the class who doesn’t have a dad but to have your complaints of his bullying and repeated use of the ’N’ word dismissed immediately.

To be Black AND British….is to watch the school label your older brother as a trouble maker because he is black but disregard the racist bullying he was subjected to by his peers. To say he is just a naughty boy and make my parents jump through hoops to get him recognised as dyslexic. 

To be Black AND British….is to see your sister distance herself from you in the playground so that she doesn’t unwittingly get the same ignorant racist behaviours as you.

To be Black AND British….is to have a peer of yours bully your sister whilst also telling you they wish they were black because they really like watching Moesha, Keenan & Kel and Sister sister! 

To be Black AND British….is to have your teacher always wanting to discuss St. Lucia with you, even though you are not from that island nor have you ever been.

To be Black AND British….Is to have another student lie about you punching them in the face and for them to run with that lie and only listen to you after escalation and you have cried due to the threat of suspension/expulsion. Its having your own parent, question if it is true because the schools is so confident.

To be Black AND British….is to be constantly belittled by your maths teacher. For her to tell you that you are going to fail the higher paper and drop out the bottom. To have here block you from moving from second set to top set, even though you are predicted an A.

To be Black AND British….is to be asked if you can trace your ancestry before the school will consider giving you admittance. A kick in the teeth considering the global misplacement of black people due to the international slave trade.

To be Black AND British….is to never have celebrated Black history month in school.

To be Black AND British….is to be told that you cant join critical thinking because you don’t have the grades for it. And when you point out that you have an A* in English and in History, and As in other subjects, that actually, you just aren’t the right fit. 

To be Black AND British….is to hear teachers in your school calling your Black peers monkeys with full impunity. 

To be Black AND British….is to be labelled a trouble maker and given a warning when you act out because a teacher is always acting inappropriately towards you. 

To be Black AND British….is to be told that you have to represent your county in athletics because its the sport of your ‘people’. 

To be Black AND British….is to have certain demographics interested in you purely to satisfy a fetish that they have or to hear people joke about how they want a ‘cute brown baby’ as if its that simple.

To be Black AND British….is to know better then to choose certain destinations and countries for a holiday because their racism is too rife. 

To be Black AND British….is to witness the shock on an employers face when you walk into interview after they have seen you on paper and heard you on the phone.

To be Black AND British….is to be policed by everyone in the office, to be reported to HR when you return one day later from holiday then expected even though your line manager has approved it. To be actively bullied in the office and have claims regarding said behaviour be dismissed by HR as an accident. 

To be Black AND British….is to have the head of HR in an international company tell you that you have made up having anxiety, that is convenient and doubtful and to prove it. Only to have your offers to prove it with medical certificates rubbished away. 

To be Black AND British….is to constantly say, please don’t touch my hair

To be Black AND British….is to have a SVP ask you intrusive questions about if your hair is a wig, weave or extensions because he has a new black assistant and has been reading up.

To be Black AND British….is to keep your hair relaxed and straight to better fit into corporate environments.

To be Black AND British….is to be hired for a job with the knowledge that they are just making up the diversity quota.

To be Black AND British….is to be repeatedly have your health concerns dismissed and your be sent about for A&E 5 times with internal bleeding, leading you to use private health care to get help.

To be Black AND British….is to never be able to win. To be questioned when you arrive at the office on time, to be questioned when you arrive at the office early. 

To be Black AND British….is to be told to go back to where you came from, even as you stand a few hundred yards from the very hospital that you were born in. 

To be Black AND British….is to witness the press viscously tear down Meghan Markle when she should have been celebrated to the same standard that Kate was.

To be Black AND British….is to always be followed around shops and stores by the security guards without provocation. 

To be Black AND British….is to be told to be grateful because the UK isn’t nearly as racist as other countries, and that if we don’t like it we should go elsewhere.

So the next time you think to ask a Black British person to prove that the UK isn’t racist, consider why it matters to you so much. Why you would rather ignore something which has been repeatedly proven through British history to be an issue. Why would you look for already known answers from a society that excused it away with buzz words such as “institutional” in a country that dragged out the prosecution of Stephen Lawrence for 19 years and yet the same system has flung £11.75m to date on finding Madeline McCann. 

To be Black AND British….is to always be expected to turn the other cheek, now there are no cheeks left. No more. We are done.