Fat – A Slight Return

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

Other than my blog, I have no ‘online’ presence at all – no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram – so, after I had written this post, I decided to email as many of my old school friends as I could and invite them to read along. Consequently, this post marked an early peak in readership, although it turned out to be very short lived. Some stayed with me for a little while, a few are still here (thank you) but most have wandered away realising that they have better things to do – oiling the cat, worming the lawnmower etc – and, as they moved on, my figures plummeted again before, some weeks later, beginning a frustratingly slow ascent. My readership remains very modest in number (although, individually, of the highest calibre) but as I set out, I had the loftiest of aspirations which, I now realise, will never be met…

Fat was first published 22 November 2018 and is approximately 1100 words long.

I have a bike. It is not a super-lightweight racing machine with slick tyres the thickness of knife-blades. It is a cheap, heavy mountain bike with tyres like a tractor. It has, of course, never been anywhere near a mountain. It has generally been pushed, not ridden, up the gentlest of inclines by its shagged-out rider. It has never, to my knowledge, borne a thin, lycra-clad athlete. It carries a fat man in jeans. The fat man is me and it is an immutable fact that whatever I may do, I am a fat man doing it. We are irrevocably conjoined by some weird symbiosis of thought, my weight and I: Colin/Fat, like Nelson Mandela/Hope, Usain Bolt/Fast, Idris Elba/James Bond, James Blunt/Turn That Bloody Racket Off! I know I should take more exercise. I know I should lose some weight. Every other expert on every other TV program tells me so. Every other expert on TV makes me feel bad about myself. I’ve got to be honest; the fact that the government tells me that I need to cut down on sugar, fat and alcohol is unlikely to sway me. This is the same government that tells me the health service is not in crisis, schools are better than ever before and that Brexit really does mean Brexit – whatever it is that Brexit means…

I have calculated my BMI – 25.6, which means that I am overweight. Now, I put most of this down to my height. If I was taller I wouldn’t be overweight. I have considered hanging from a doorway in order to decrease my BMI. Frighteningly, I appear to have actually shrunk by an inch over the last twenty years, although I prefer to think that my tape measure may have stretched. In fact, I still reach the same point on the garage wall – but I put that down to subsidence. I eat less than I once did and I exercise more, but I still put on weight. I don’t believe that any of this can be blamed upon a somnambulant thyroid (although, having said that, like an idiot I have just looked up the symptoms of an under-active thyroid, and I discover that I have them all). For the time being, until I can get an appointment at the doctor’s (I’m free in March if she is) I am perfectly happy to lay the blame at the door of Messrs. Cake, Gin and Chocolate. The answer is, I know, to exercise even more and eat even less. Perhaps if I exercise enough, I won’t have time to eat. Like most overweight people, I would like to lose a bit. Like most overweight people, I know that the only way to do so is to ‘do’ more and to consume less. Like most overweight people, I choose to do neither. I’m not obscenely fat, but I am of a build that allows me two choices when buying a ‘T’ shirt: something that resembles a Bedouin tent or something that looks like it has been spray-painted onto a lifebuoy. My weight dictates my behaviour: I dare not enter a swimming pool without first checking for Ahab.

You see, I have reached the age when I look at the obituaries and think, “My goodness, that’s no age,” when I used to think “Oh well, he/she had a good innings.” And I’m tired of hearing about people who were the “healthiest person I have ever met” just one day before they dropped down dead. I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t take up any new form of exercise once you’ve passed 50 years of age. Problem is, what do you do if your last real exercise was kiss-chase in the school playground? The real challenge when commencing a new exercise regime at my age is finishing it conscious. Like some of the medications I now take daily, one of the less desirable side-effects of exercise is death.

My mum couldn’t cook; she could burn water. Combining the correct quantities of cornflakes and milk in a bowl was, for her, a culinary triumph. But she loved a diet; the faffier and faddier the better. Meals that had to be meticulously weighed and prepared really appealed – but not for long. Unusual ingredients were always a bonus – particularly if she couldn’t find them anywhere. “I looked everywhere, but nobody had Patagonian cumquats, so I bought a pie.” I remember her doing a diet in which she ate nothing but grapefruit. Presumably you lose weight because the only thing you are allowed to eat is completely inedible. One of the true benefits of taking statins is that I no longer even have to contemplate a glass of grapefruit juice with my holiday breakfast. Scales were pounded weekly, daily, hourly and if there was no loss, exercise might be taken – normally a stroll around the block or, on Fridays, to the chip shop. For my mum, a diet began on a Monday and ended on a doughnut.

My own approach to dieting is equally haphazard: I try to eat less, I try to drink less and I try to eat only at meal times. And I eat fruit. Tons of fruit, which my largely fruitless upbringing led me to believe was good for me, but which the experts now tell me is too high in sugar. What happened to “an apple a day” and all that? I’m waiting for the for the catchy couscous or bulgar wheat epigrams, but they don’t appear to be forthcoming. No “do’s” only “don’ts”. Can you imagine your mum telling you forty years ago that drinking a litre of green slime a day would be good for you? The nearest we got to a ‘Supergreen Smoothie’ was a pot of mushy peas. And yet, as kids, we were all so skinny. The only child in our class who carried above average ‘timber’ was known as ‘fatty’ for the rest of his life. He was revered by all because he learned to sweat before the rest of us. I was like a walking X-Ray: a badly assembled jumble of skin and bone. I looked like somebody had tried to get me onto Ryan Air as hand luggage by turning me inside out and emptying me. My grandma, a Manchester woman who did not consider food to be of any value at all unless it “gave you a lining” had a mission in life to “put some meat” on me. Sadly she didn’t see it, but in the long term, she succeeded…

Thoughts from the Mind of a Ninja Weightwatcher

clear drinking glass near in blue tape measure and apple fruit
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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