For the first time in weeks, I’d managed to do the school run. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, as I was suffering from pain. But the parents at my children’s school are a social bunch and I’m lucky enough to count many as dear friends. So, it wasn’t long before I heard a cheery ‘hello’.

Of course, I stopped to talk, and the lovely mum exclaimed how long it had been since she’d seen me. I explained I’d not been well and was still struggling. Then, looking me up and down, and with the best intentions, she said: ‘Oh, but you look amazing.’

Once again I stated that I was ill and had recently lost some weight. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining,’ she joked, and I laughed along, although it was somewhat hollow.

Both she and others meant well. They also commented positively on my slim figure. I was struck by the obsessiveness surrounding being thin, even though they had good intentions. My condition was so bad that I could barely brush my hair and put on any make-up. My face was strained, miserable and my body too thin.

Kitty Dimbleby (pictured), who shed a stone while ill, said even her mother and grandmother applauded her weight loss

Kitty Dimbleby (pictured), who lost one stone in her battle with cancer, told her grandmother and her mother that she was proud of her weight loss. 

But none of that mattered because I was thin and in today’s world that is the ultimate achievement.

What a pervasive, distorted attitude we have to thinness.

I have always had a difficult time with my health. I was born in 1980 with a club foot, a spinal defect and Hirschsprung’s disease. It affects the large intestinal tract.

I’ve had more surgeries than I care to count. My doctor told me that I wouldn’t conceive naturally so I had to have IVF.

Both pregnancies were extremely challenging, and the trauma of C-sections meant that I didn’t gain much weight and was back in my skinny jeans within days.

I was confused by the awe my thinness inspired in others — rather than the miracle life in my arms.

I remember how a pregnant friend stared at my skinny limbs and said: ‘You’re so thin, I’m jealous’.

The good news was that I enjoyed a number of years in good health. For the first time I tried weight lifting and got serious about exercise. The endorphins made me feel better and I became more fit.

In October 2019, my bowel became dysfunctional again. I had to use morphine in order to manage the severe pain.

My fitness was maintained and I continued to eat as healthy as possible, giving my body all the nutrition it required. In spite of being sick, I felt still strong.

Kitty (pictured) admits the compliments about her appearance made her feel good about herself after weeks of loathing her failing body

Kitty (pictured), admits that she felt good after feeling awful about her body for weeks.

My bladder stopped functioning in April of last year. After my stomach distended, I felt eight months pregnant. I was then rushed to hospital in pain.

I had gone into what’s called retention — my bladder had more than double the amount of urine that it is designed to cope with.

After the UK opened, my instinct was to retreat and spend most of my time lying down. I lost my appetite and started losing weight. I had to lose muscle and some essential fat. I felt weak, miserable and unable to find the energy to even play with my kids.

The waiting list for emergency rooms and other invasive procedures became a constant part of daily life.

By late June, I was tiny — about the size I was at 14, a stone lighter than my normal ‘healthy’ weight. Even though I am a small 5’1″ person, a stone is quite a bit when you consider that I was already very slim.

It was so dark and I was suffering from severe pain. 

When I went out for a run with the kids, or just to have a few drinks with my friends, many people complimented me on how I looked.

They all seemed so good-intentioned. I even enjoyed them.

I felt good about myself, after having spent weeks loathing my poor body. The cult of skinny is so ingrained that I started to believe what was repeated so many times — that being so thin was the upside to it all.

My initial thoughts were that I appeared miserable and unwell. But, I found out I actually looked much better. And it wasn’t just women — in fact one male friend was so insistent in his compliments that even my easy-going husband felt the need to step in and say: ‘Mate, she’s had a really bad time,’ to stop him.

My grandmother and mother, who were more acutely aware of my struggles, also applauded my weight loss. As a victory, I celebrated it.

Kitty (pictured) admits she's found herself struggling with the inevitable weight gain since her health has improved

Kitty (pictured) says she struggles with inevitable weight gain now that her health is better

After a while I didn’t know what to believe; the version of me I could see in the mirror — which I knew was too thin — or the version reflected to me by everyone else, which was apparently the best version of me they’d ever seen.

Friends spoke out, but the cheers from all were deafening.

So perhaps it is no surprise that as my health has improved, I’ve found myself struggling with the inevitable weight gain.

For the first time in my life, I’ve found myself upset by a number on the scales. I eat well (most of the time) and I’m still by any measure a very slim woman. I should be delighted my appetite and energy are back and, most importantly, that I’m no longer in pain.

I should be revelling in the fact that I can exercise daily, whether it’s a brisk dog walk, yoga or keeping up with my six-year-old son.

I’m a pretty good person, at least most of the times. But when you’ve been showered with compliments when you are at your thinnest it’s hard not to believe you look bad when you gain weight.

Jane Ogden, professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey, isn’t surprised I’ve been struggling. She says: ‘We’ve been conditioned that thin equals good and weight gain equals bad. So, while you rationally know weighing more means you’re getting healthier, the peer reinforcement you received that the thin, ill version looked good, makes it hard to accept.’

My relationship with my body was damaged by the comments I got

It’s helped to know I’m not alone. My friend Grace, who’s tall and slim, lost two stone due to the stress of separating from her husband and told me she found the compliments ‘confusing’.

‘I knew I was too thin for my height — that I didn’t look well. But everyone commented how good I looked,’ she recalls. ‘The most shocking thing was female friends, those at a healthy weight, who seemed almost angry with me for losing weight.

‘As a result, I’ve got body dysmorphia — my relationship with my body has been damaged. I’ve not put the weight back on yet and it will be while before I can accept that’s it’s OK to do so.’

Meanwhile, Alice, whose husband’s affair left her unable to eat, remembers being ‘comforted’ by friends who said that, at least, she was now skinnier than the other woman. ‘At the time it was reassuring,’ she says, ‘but I can see now how messed up that is’.

Hilary, who lost her baby when 24 weeks pregnant, says: ‘Because it was clear the baby wasn’t growing as she should, I was worried so wasn’t eating much. A few days later, my appetite was affected by grief.

Kitty (pictured) said she is stopping all talk about weight or size in front of her daughter because she doesn't want her to think women strive to be skinny

Kitty (pictured), said that she will not be able to talk about her weight and size with her daughter, as she does not want her to believe women are trying to slim down. 

‘I was doubly hurt — I wanted to still be expecting, so it was painful that no one could tell I had been pregnant. I couldn’t wear my clothes from before pregnancy because I was so thin. People would say: “I know you’ve been through a terrible time, but you look good”. As if my “good” appearance would be any comfort.’

For Amelie, who had a mastectomy earlier this year, the comments weren’t about weight loss.

She says: ‘Doctors were hoping to do the reconstruction surgery using fat from my stomach. My body was the subject of a lot commentary during the operation. People saying: “Lucky you, what a silver lining you get a boob-job and a tummy-tuck.”

‘I was too slim for this procedure and the discussion caused a lot of upset. Nevertheless, friends suggested that I might be able to eat some of their fat. Unsurprisingly, none of this helped.’

For my part, I’ve realised that so much of this is social habit, rather than being malicious. I‘ve been guilty, too, particularly when I know someone has been working hard to get fitter.

I have always tried to be mindful of not celebrating ‘misery weight loss’. But I also understand people don’t know what to say when someone they know is going through a tough time, so feel a compliment is the best icebreaker.

It’s a ‘safe’ option to comment that someone looks good. But it’s something as a society we need to change. Stop praising women and men for being smaller. This is especially true if shrinking occurs due to suffering.

Particularly those of us raising the next generation: I don’t want my nine-year-old daughter to think skinny mummy is the best version of me, that as women that’s what we strive for.

So, I’m militant in stopping all talk about weight or size in front of her. Mummy should be strong and healthy. My son needs to understand that it is okay to exercise and feel good. There is nothing more.

As Professor Ogden advises: ‘We need to find a new language to compliment one another. Instead of commenting on people’s appearance, talk about how clever or kind they are. Particularly with children. While it may take many years to make a difference, there are steps we can take now. We need to focus on what the body can do rather than its size.’

Meanwhile, I’ve binned the scales and am focusing on staying fit and healthy, regardless of what size jeans fit. Most importantly, I’m fighting any feelings of loss for my super-skinny figure and reminding myself that I prefer food, exercise and good health to compliments.