Chocolate makes my clothes shrink, or so I tell strangers whenever I want to draw attention to the fact I’ve put on a lot of weight. The thing is, I never minded how I looked. Outside a few little insecurities (snaggle teeth, size ten feet, and hairy hands) I felt fine about my appearance. Until last month when someone fat shamed one of my photographs, then I suddenly realised I was now being judged by my weight, a middle-aged spread that I’d carried all the way through my early twenties. I have a beer belly without drinking the beer! Any achievement I’d earned meant nothing. I was simply fat in the eyes of the internet stranger. Really? I thought, completely enraged. Success will be my revenge. I’ll show you. This and the fact COVID-19 was coming, hovering threateningly in the near distance, the words living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases making me think seriously about myself for the first time in many years.
So I went on a new fitness regime and did everything you shouldn’t do. My calorie intake went from a tube of Pringles, dinner, lunch, breakfast, chocolate all the way to…breakfast and dinner, but only if it didn’t overtake one thousand calories. Exercise became obsessive. I got on my bike and guilt-pedalled my food away. Within weeks, people started to notice I’d lost weight around my face. My jeans started to slip slightly, then drop without my belt, which now tightened at the second hook rather than the first. T-shirts that didn’t fit now felt slightly baggy around my belly. My body is becoming harder, the softness receding, my gut the only reminder of the weight I had only last month. From an XXL to an XL and possibly below that, well it felt brilliant. But I also feel fucking miserable at times. I want to enjoy my food. No, I want to over-enjoy my food. I was far happier being fat, even though I love fitting into smaller sizes. Better still, I’m no longer snoring, and I don’t wake up in the morning with pins and needles in my fingers. That’s reassuring,
I’m writing, of course. The bike, however, takes up more of my time. Long walks have been helpful. I’m slowly adding more calories to my daily intake, but each bit of food has a number floating alongside their packaging. I see these numbers everywhere. At some point, I’ll put the weight back on, but not all of it. Suddenly I don’t need to have a biscuit with every cup of tea. There’s always a day when I can just eat and not care, which is how I cope with the drastic change in my eating habits. In fact, my day was scheduled around lunch and dinner. This has changed, just like me.
I still have some weight around my chin. Do I try to remove it or stay defiant? At my age, being too skinny is nearly as awful as being too heavy, or so I’ve been told by people. Everyone has something to say, some wisdom to pass on, even if I didn’t ask for it. God, I wished I smoked like my skinny friends. Yes, my slim friends all disappear at different times throughout the day, returning ten minutes later. Their lunches are small, almost incidental, something that gets in the way of their smoking. But me? My social life before Covid completely revolved around social gatherings, which of course meant brunch, lunch, dinner, and copious amounts of tea drinking. I miss that too much to give it up.
I won’t post a ‘before and after’ photograph. The idea revolts me, for some reason. Maybe you won’t even notice the difference? I had developed ways of hiding the weight gain. We all know the tricks. High angles, hands on chins, and distant tripods with phones set to horizontal width. That sort of thing.
I’m eating more fruit, which is a nice twist in this tale. Apples, in particular, have substituted chocolate. I still eat the odd biscuits, which results in guilt-pedalling, but I’m too misanthropic to keep that going forever. Also, when do I stop? Will I keep going until I’m a certain size? I haven’t weighed myself. Somehow that seemed self-defeating, and I don’t want to be a slave to a dial on a panel.
At some point, I need to stop seeing the numbers. It can’t be healthy for my mind, even if it’s beneficial for my body. For now, I’ll be thoughtful and pedal away the weight, but life is for living – and eating food is what keeps my body working, my fingers writing, my legs moving, and my mouth smiling.