Writing has made me FAT.
I hate being fat.
For decades, I weighed 115 pounds, exercising daily and eating without a thought. Later, having babies added 5-10 pounds, which bugged me a bit, but I knew I’d lose it ‘someday’.
Then I started writing (in the time slot previously allotted to exercise) and within one year put on a further 15-20 pounds: ta-daaaah, suddenly I was fat. Not obese, but fat is bad enough.
Damn that writing lark…
I hate having rings of blubber hanging over my waistline. I hate the pinch of clothes as they imprint their seams onto my skin. I hate the clods of cholesterol slowing my arteries, and the rise in heartbeat as I puff and sweat up our hill. I hate having saddlebags on my hips, and great wide thighs that have no more power than they ever did, yet must now propel extra bulk. I hate my new inability to fit between things; I can no longer slip unnoticed through small gaps, but instead catch myself on table corners and get stuck in tight spaces. I hate that I no longer have any physical grace. I hate that my children don’t know that I ever had any physical grace.
I hate that when I’m fat, I don’t feel like ‘me’.
Don’t get me wrong; my hatred is reserved for the fat on my own body, not that on anyone else’s. I don’t judge other people — we all walk our own paths. It’s possible to be curvy and healthy, and I find some fat people inspiringly beautiful (although I’ve yet to meet one who’s beautiful because of their fat; I’m pretty sure their beauty comes from some other place) — but anyway, each to their own.
Without lipids we’d be lifeless, acellular soup — but beyond the necessary lipid structures and a modest subcutaneous layer, I hate it.
So, what to do?
There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and the laws of thermodynamics remain as spiteful as ever, so I could
- write and be fat,
- “diet” (starve), still write, and be thinner, or
- quit writing, use the time to exercise off the lard, and be fit again.
I chose the diet – and OMG did I learn a few things.
At the age of 43, I became aware of row upon row of ‘low-fat’, ‘low-cal’, ‘low-carb’, and ‘low sodium’ shit in our shops, plus a baffling array of fake sugars and ‘natural’ flavourings.
My kid asked, ‘Mum, is this healthy?’
And I said, ‘No.’
- ‘low fat’ usually means raw cane sugar with added salt,
- ‘low carb’ includes a mug of hot lard,
- ‘low sodium’ is great but the stuff that’s labelled ‘low sodium’ is not as low in sodium as most unlabelled low-sodium foods, like apples,
- ‘natural’ doesn’t mean ‘good’; you only have to look at kneecaps and childbirth to know that Mother Nature is a bitch; if you nibble natural yew leaves or suck natural rattlesnakes, you’ll die a ‘natural’ death,
- none of the above gives any idea of the actual nutritional value of food,
- and mentally, the labelling will do your head in (if the shop doesn’t shut first).
‘So what’s healthy?’ asked the kid.
‘Anything fresh that looks like it hasn’t been fiddled with, in reasonable portions,’ I replied.
That’s how my diet ended up the same as it had ever been. My diet, if it needed to change at all, was going to require portion control.
Portion reduction is freakishly difficult.
Portion reduction is a valid way of losing weight as long as you accept that your body will compensate for your initial reduction, so you’ll have to compensate for that compensation by further reducing your food intake, over and over, until you’re absolutely frigging starving.
Three very specific things I learnt:
- Drinking water does not alleviate hunger, not even a bit, not even for a nanosecond.
- Going to sleep stops hunger but the preceding hours of lying in bed awake thinking of food is awful.
- I’m grumpy when I’m hungry.
It’s not surprising; our bodies evolved over millions of years to achieve two very specific objectives:
- not die too soon.
Most of that evolution happened in the time before shops. My Northern, Celtic body is designed to sustain itself through long winter months of nibbling snow, moss, earthworms, and carrion field mice, if it has to — in short, my body can sniff out a calorie from fifteen miles, and conserve fat better than eagles fly. And when it does find food, bearing in mind the four billion years before fridges, the only truly reliable food store my body recognises is itself — in particular, its own fat arse.
Every time my body packs a few spare calories into my backside, a little signal is sent to my brain, saying, ‘Well done!’ and it feels GOOD.
Every time my body starves even the tiniest smidgen of that fat back off again, a much stronger signal screams right back into the old cortex, ‘You’re STARVING — quick, kill a pig, grab some berries, bite a rabbit, do what you have to do but don’t, for goodness sake, die.’
It takes a will of iron to overcome millions of years of evolution. And that will of iron has to also cope with delicious, nutritious food being passed right under the olfactory honk three times a day when I feed my children. Oh, yes, and as a parent, I need to eat with them to show them the value of healthy, family mealtimes.
Despite the mental acrobatics required, with no small measure of cursing, I managed to starve off ten pounds. It took four months and I was in a bad mood for every single minute (apart from the Christmas Pudding Moment: I call amnesty on that one). During this time, I wrote a vast mass of stories, pretty much all involving wine and snacks, and none of them any good.
Now it’s 2014, and I am facing Phase 2: the other ten pounds.
The next ten pounds is going to have to come off via exercise, and I’ll find a way of writing around this even if it means rising before dawn to fit in a hideous early-morning gallop before dashing home to whack out a short story.
I know it’s going to hurt, because I’m less than fit right now, and it might not even look cool, but ‘no pain, no gain’, as they say (although that’s misleading, because the pain will come either way — from being unhealthy, or from the efforts to become healthy).
At least I’m lucky enough to have a choice, and if I return to full fitness, I’ll have the comforts that come with it. Exercise makes us strong, and the strength stays even after the exercise is over (when the pain of running up a hill can be offset against the comfort of wine). Plus there are some pleasures along the way; I love pounding along, mile after mile, feeling my body develop faster rhythms. I love the feeling of cold air on my face, when I’m out in the wind and rain, battling the elements, feeling the world around me.
Fitness, when it comes, is a form of magic. There are few freedoms as intense as looking at the horizon, and knowing that your own legs will take you there. And as a perk, if I fall over my super-fit arms will be strong enough to keep me from faceplanting the tarmac. (OK, I know, watch this space: now I’ve said that, I will fall and forget to put my arms out.)
Over the last year, as I juggled parenting, work and health, I learnt a few things about myself: I can’t diet, because I evolved pretty much explicitly not to, and my own biology will beat me — but I can exercise, I quite enjoy exercising, and I certainly need to.
And when I’m not writing, it seems I write about not writing. That makes as much sense as a bottle of chips, but hey — what I wouldn’t do right now for a bottle of chips…