Thoughts from the Mind of a Ninja Weightwatcher

clear drinking glass near in blue tape measure and apple fruit
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Losing weight at this age can be a dangerous game. Lose six pounds and people will say ‘My word, you look well, have you lost some weight?’ Lose seven pounds and they will say ‘My word, you’ve lost weight? Are you ok?’ The dividing line between thinner and gaunt is, fittingly perhaps, a slim one. My BMI is at the top end of ideal (ok, acceptable) but it never quite teeters into obese. Yet when I look into the mirror, it is definitely a fat person I see. Definitely one bag more than a family pack. So, I’d like to lose a pound or two, but I don’t want people asking me if I’m unwell whilst I’m doing it. Should I decide to lose weight, I must become a stealthy dieter – a kind of Ninja weightwatcher.

I could make a point of wearing the loosest fitting clothes I can find. People would assume that I had already lost weight (why else would my clothes be too big?) and they wouldn’t make such a meal of it – oh come on, it was in there: I just had to flush it out – when I turn down a second dessert, an over-large serving of something blue-veined and odorous, or half a box of after dinner mints. It would give me breathing space. Talking of which, I could always let my belt out by a notch. If I have to keep hoiking my trousers up, all the better. Please, never be tempted to wear your tightest clothes in the belief that it will spur you on. People will not notice that you are losing weight any earlier. They will just think that you look like an over-extruded sausage and wonder if you have had a washing machine incident of some kind.

You see, what occurs to me is that we’re all doing this wrong. Surely the first thing we need to be asking ourselves is why we want to lose that pound or two. Is it for the good of our health? If so, then all fine and dandy – if weight is an issue that does impact on your health (present or future) then losing some is obviously the right way to go, but what if it’s not a health issue. What if, like me, you would just quite like to lose a pound or two so that you don’t weigh quite as much as you have actually weighed for the last thirty years. At the back of my mind is the vague assurance that I could lose weight if I chose to, and associated to that is the slightly uneasy feeling that if I could lose weight, then perhaps I really should lose weight.

So, what truly drives us to wish to change the way we are? If it’s not a health issue, what is it? Is it vanity? Not sure? OK, I’ll tell you what to do. Put on some clothes that you like; that fit you well, and take a look in the mirror. Now, think about what you see. Is it really so far away from what you’d want to see? Right, now, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have bits of ourselves that we will never be happy with. In addition to the area around my midriff where my clothes suddenly tighten and, if viewed side-on, has an uncanny resemblance to some kind of bi-pedal python caught in the very act of swallowing a whole sheep, I have W.C. Field’s nose and Deputy Dawg’s jowls, but, and here my point suddenly occurs to me, can I imagine myself without them? Can I actually see myself with the kind of proboscis that Michael Jackson ended up with? Would I even be able to breathe through it? Could I live with it falling off every time I sneezed? If I removed my jowls, would my jaw look thin? Would the rest of my face look fat? I have a fat neck. What would a savagely tapering jaw look like sat atop a corpulent neck? I struggle to think of anybody who has undergone cosmetic surgery in order to look better and actually succeeded. I presume that the percentage of those with the money to do so, who return to the knife, would indicate that they are not any happier with the renewed configuration than they were with the original. Who ever thought that having skin stretched to the kind of taughtness that you can bounce a dried pea off could possibly be a good thing? Who wants eyebrows halfway up the forehead? Who wants to spend the rest of their life looking startled?

I suppose that dieting is an altogether more agreeable method of physique modification than surgery; shorn of the risk of finding that your ears are now too high to support the glasses that your eyes still need. I guess that losing weight is something that we can all do, without succumbing to the pain of the surgeon’s dotted lines and scalpel. (I have seen the documentaries: I have seen the hammers and chisels and I prefer to not even think about those.) And, of course, the cost of dieting should be far less dramatic: eating less should cost less… shouldn’t it? A yogurt with all the fat removed, all the sugar removed, all the taste removed surely cannot cost twice as much as the one that doesn’t say ‘Diet’ on the packaging… can it? Anyway, if I lose a little weight, will it really alter my middle-aged body that much? Can I really look much slimmer without looking ill? Is it possible to lose weight from my nose? If I lost my fleshy jowls, would I just be left with a wattle?

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice: do what you need to do to feel good about yourself, but be the best version of the person you are, and not some second-rate version of the person that you think others would like you to be. Make like a Ninja – and maybe nobody will even know you opened the fridge.

I’m anorexic really. Anorexic people look in the mirror and think they look fat. And so do I. Jo Brand.

The lunches of 57 years had caused his chest to slip down to the mezzanine level. P.G. Wodehouse

Hypochondria

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Awoke with a soaring temperature, a tightening pain across my chest, a strange ‘panting’ noise in my ears and an itching nose. Struggled for breath and abandoned all attempts to pull myself upright whilst simultaneously taking my pulse and checking for swollen glands. Breathing as laboured as a prospective politician’s joke. Forced open sleep-gummed eyes and prepared to face my end with as much dignity as I could muster whilst still allowing myself the odd whimper, only to find the dog sleeping across my chest again…

My wife tells me that I am a hypochondriac which I consider to be grossly unfair to someone whose health is as fragile as mine. Especially since I have never taken a single day’s sick leave in my life. I say this, not in a goody-goody, holier-than-thou sort of way, but merely as a bald statement of fact, rather like the fact that over the same period of time I have never had the decorators in: it doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that I had. Forty years of DIY is not the sort of thing that someone as poorly as myself should have been involved in.

Nor do I constantly visit the doctor. The waiting room at our local health centre would make anyone feel ill. I cannot walk through the door without misappropriating at least twenty additional symptoms. And the place is littered with the kind of leaflets which, to a hypochondriac, are akin to the Argos catalogue: nothing in there that you actually want, but a thousand things that you suspect you might already have, even if you’ve no idea where you might have left the attachments.  And I never self-medicate. You can never be certain that the side-effects of self administered medicines will not be worse than the malady they are intended to counter. I suffer in silence. Well, not silence exactly, more a sort of long, low moan. Never-the-less, the mere mention of illness, any illness, immediately brings me out in hives. The appearance of a hitherto unnoticed mole (probably a gravy stain) invokes the kind of panic usually associated with a cabinet reshuffle. I have yet to be allowed to forget one of my rare visits to the doctor with what seemed to me the certain indicators of incipient brain tumour, only to be told that my hat was too tight.

As I get older, two things give me cause for greatest concern: my weight and my mind. I monitor my diet constantly – I never change it, but I do monitor it. I exercise fitfully (I’m just checking my dictionary here to ensure that ‘fitfully’ does actually mean ‘hardly ever’). I calculated my Body Mass Index with a formula I got from the internet. Apparently 24 is normal, 25 is fat and 30 is obese, so it was of some little concern to find that mine worked out to be 3,731. My wife suggested that I may have got my maths wrong, so I immediately checked for all other obvious signs of dementia. Fortunately, I could find none.

Now, where was I?

Ah yes, my capacity for worry is legendary. I worry about my inability to remember a PIN number without access to a ball-point pen and a rarely exposed body part. My ability to leave my bank card in the machine at the supermarket checkout is matched only by my tendency to leave the custard creams on the conveyor. My long-term memory comprises a bulk supply of Post-it notes and a fridge door. I understand from BBC Breakfast News that drinking three glasses of fruit juice a week will reduce my chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease by something like 60 percent. I do not eat meat, but I do eat prodigious amounts of fruit. Does this count as juice? Do I have, perhaps, to chew it up really, really well to get full benefit? They were very specific about the number of glasses; three per week, but not the size. Would that be three large or three small? Do three small glasses equal one large? What if I overdose – would the symptoms set in at once? Would I even be able to remember how many glasses I had drunk? Anyway, I don’t know anyone who drinks fruit juice without vodka. I know a Bloody Mary without the vodka is a Virgin Mary, so what is an orange juice: is it a Harvey or a Wallbanger?

Worry is my constant companion: should I be able to remember my mobile phone number; should I be able to touch my toes without sitting on a stool and asking somebody else to lift my foot; do the ever-expanding dimensions of my man-boobs put me at proportionally increased risk of breast cancer? (If there are any doctors reading this, for God’s sake, don’t write in with the answer, particularly if it is ‘Yes’.) And while we are on the subject of doctors, I must give a dishonourable mention here to all those ‘newspaper doctors’, whose columns are responsible for me feeling unwell more often than the common cold virus. I am uniquely susceptible to auto-suggestion: whatever the most obscure symptoms of the rarest, most recently discovered illness, I have got them within fifteen minutes of reading about them (less if I am on a bus).

There is, I am afraid, a tendency to dismiss the concerns of the hypochondriac as those of a crank. Grossly unfair I would argue and also wasteful of the G.P.’s time as, having been so dismissed, any hypo’ worth his salt is almost certain to demand to be referred to a psychiatrist in order to receive treatment for depression. My opinion is that the best way for doctors to deal with hypochondria would be for them to recognise it as a bona fide disease. Imagine the rise in self-esteem for the sufferer if, instead of being told ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re a hypochondriac, pull yourself together,’ you were told ‘I’m afraid you’re suffering from hypochondria, it’s seldom terminal, but there is no cure.’ We’d all feel so much better…

Envoi. To better understand the word, hypochondria, I decided to follow my usual procedure: break it down into two pieces and then look-up the Greek (or sometimes Latin) meaning of the constituent pieces. I thus found ‘Hypo’ to mean ‘Under’ and jumped to the obvious conclusion that ‘Chondria’ means ‘The Weather’. I was somewhat disconcerted to discover that it is merely a type of North America Red Algae – there’s no wonder I feel ill