I am glad to say that I have never really had much of a problem with my body. I realised fairly early on, that I was going to look pretty much like my father. My father was fairly bald – so am I. He was unbelievably hairy – so am I. My mother liked to describe her children as “big boned” (meaning tending towards overweight) - well so am I.
But even though it is true to say that I have always been fairly comfortable about what I look like, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes notice that things are starting to get a bit out of hand. And I suppose I can put it down to a whole lot of things. When any kind of trauma enters my life, whether it be a baby (God forbid ever again!) or a move …or anything like that, I tend to head for the fridge. And I usually tend not to leave it alone until, one day, I look at the burgeoning podge starting to show on my face and think, “Oh dear – not looking my usual film-star quality!”
So, as you can imagine, I have been on diets before. Up to this point, none, that don’t require someone else to monitor me on a regular basis. I once needed a small operation in the stomach area. The specialist said, matter-of-factly – “You need to lose 10kgs, otherwise I am going to have to cut you and the cut will leave a scar and it will look hideous”. So I did. I went to a dietitian, who told me all sorts of stuff about nutrition and glycemic levels and conversion of something or other to sugar. All very technical. My eyes got a glazed look in them. I pretended to pay attention and went on my way trying to make head or tail of the complicated diet regime she had given me. I am glad to say I did it and I don’t have an ugly scar in the stomach region to prove it.
I also went to Weigh Less. The world of sneaking past healthy, thin people doing Ballet and twisting themselves into Yoga knots at the local community hall, so that you can go an weigh yourself on a weekly basis, after having staved yourself on tiny fragments of tasteless food for a week. There is a lipstick-ed trim woman there, who writes down what your score is. She beams brightly if you lose and looks sympathetic, chiding and disappointed if you don't. You pay her to be some kind of in loco parentis. It works, because you are mildly scared of her, and because prior to the weigh in, you forgo eating and drinking entirely; select the lightest clothes in your wardrobe; cut your hair; blow your nose; take purgatives; cut your fingernails to the quick. But it works. Sometimes, you reach nirvana - called your "Goal Weight". This is sometimes just shortened to "Goal" as in , "Oh, Elaine reached Goal!" - awe from the rest of the room. You also have to sit around while the lipsticked one tells you all about how various overpriced weigh less products (which are essentially all the things you would like to eat, but denuded of any actual nutrients, wrapped in a green and yellow label).
But then things start getting a bit out of control again. It happens gradually. Slowly. Somewhat imperceptibly. You stop going to Weigh Less. You start to notice that this pair of trousers won’t fit. Then you notice that that shirt is a little too snug. But you ignore it. You pretend it isn’t happening. You pretend things are just the same as they ever were. And when you next bother to get onto a scale, the results are mildly embarrassing.
Then, for a few months, you dither and dather about it, but it is there at the back of your mind. You tell yourself, I shouldn’t be eating this thing or that thing. But you do anyway. You start to spiral into a vortex of bad habits. The bad habits start to become slightly compulsive. And before long, there is more than just a hint of compulsion in them. They start to be slightly overwhelming. You start to be controlled by them. You start to do things (and to eat things) you normally would not. It is only then, when things are teetering on the very brink of really dire consequences that, I take some form of action.
I was sitting, some months back, in one of the most boring training sessions you can imagine. So boring I cannot even remember what it was all about. But the boring trainer said something which stuck with me and then made me think. He said (it was about some bad management practice or other that you are not supposed to do) “The strange thing is, that every day, you do precisely the thing you shouldn’t do. And then you wonder why you have problems”.
This is, of course, not wildly novel. There is something about it in the Anglican Liturgy about “doing the things we ought not to do and not doing the things we ought to do”. It is that same thing. But we all do it (or don’t do it) as the case may be. And then we wonder why we have the consequences which the doing of it or not doing of it has in our lives.
Naturally thin people (I’m not talking about obsessively thin people here – just people with well-tuned eating habits and few compulsions) have very little understanding of the depth of difficulty there is here. And the harshest critics of fat people are often these people, who simply do not understand the difficulty. Because it is not simply about control. Nor is it simply about discipline. Nor about greed. Nor about other notions like wanting to “protect oneself from society” and other easy explanations.
No. It is far more complex, far more invasive, far more subtle. It is about the struggle to be oneself in a world where doing just that is often a very difficult thing. In a world where people actually won’t let you. I don’t think I really understood this struggle until I read a book called She’s come undone by Wally Lamb (Washington Square Press, 1992)
So, this time, when the seams started bursting and the mother-in-law noted, once again, that I had piled on the beef, I took myself seriously in hand. I call it the “Move more – Eat less” diet. And by crikey has it worked! I have lost an amazing amount of weight, just by doing those two things, moving more and eating less.
And yes, I have lost weight – quite a lot actually. But not because of the hype, or the jargon or the religious fervour or the paid parent. I have lost weight because I wanted to and limited the amount I eat. Sounds easy to all you thinnies out there, but it really isn’t. The only way I do it is by becoming somewhat compulsive in the opposite direction. That is just the way I am and probably the way I will always be, I suppose.
And why am I like this? I don’t have the slightest clue. I just am. I have a quirky eating lifestyle. But I have the greatest respect for fat people. Well maybe 'respect' isn’t the right word – something more like fear and fascination. Because I know them. I recognise them. I know their struggle.