I’VE spent my life trying to change my body – wanting it thinner, tauter, smoother. My body was never good enough and that thin, taut, smooth ideal was always just beyond my grasp.

As a child I believed that fat was comical and embarrassing. Slimness brought approval, fatness brought ridicule. Thin was beautiful and admirable. Fat was shameful and isolating. Thin was right; fat was wrong. Nobody wanted to be a Ten-Ton-Tessie if you could be a Skinny Minnie. These were the messages from society, from advertising – apparently from the ether – and I believed them.

I grew from being a skinny child into a woman always wanting to lose 5lbs. I joined my first slimming club aged 20 and size 10. I didn’t question this desire to be less. I thought all women were dissatisfied with their bodies – it was normal for women to be dieting, planning a diet, or bemoaning a failed diet. I remember hearing one woman say: ‘It’s the hunger I can’t stand,’ and not finding this deprivation wrong or strange in any way.

I thought the weight-loss industry was benevolent, there to help me to overcome a personal failing and help me muster the willpower to go hungry to achieve slimness. My reading-of-choice was Slimming Magazine. I spent nights out staring at a slimline orange. Without realising it I had become immersed in diet culture.

Daily life involved weigh-ins, food listings, calorie counting, fat-free this, low-cal-that. In a fat-phobic world I stuck pictures of fat women on my fridge to frighten me and slim women to inspire me.

Over the years there were occasional suggestions in the media that obese people should be denied non-urgent surgery on the NHS and there was endless talk about the ‘epidemic of obesity’. This joined the general cacophony from society that ‘Fat=bad, slim=good’.

I wasn’t aware of the body positivity movement until I was 50. I lauded their aims of acceptance for all bodies and the centring of the voices of marginalised people and applauded the idea of self-acceptance. But after a lifetime of diet culture, it didn’t seem to apply to me.

The pressure to conform didn’t let up with age – it just got harder. After menopausal weight gain, I joined Slimming World and lost over a stone. I was overjoyed I could still bludgeon my body into shape.

Then I got breast cancer and the shock was total. As I progressed through surgery, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy I thought, who even am I now?

Faced with my own mortality I wrote my memoir One Body and realised how disordered my obsessive worry, guilt and shame around food had been and that food is not a foe but a friend. I am lucky, I am still alive, in remission, and in the privileged position of having choice about food – and my choice is to never again eat a food based on its calorific value. I choose to leave the body image battleground and to appreciate the body I am in right now.

One Body: A Retrospective, by Catherine Simpson, published 7 April by Saraband