Downsizing for Dummies

Posted on Thursday 31st January, 2013

Food has always been my best friend and my worst enemy.   I grew up in a household where it was plentiful, fresh and delicious.   I also spent 12 years at boarding schools which served up some of the most hideous, vile filth that has ever masqueraded as comestible.  

My mother was fabulously capable in the kitchen: she made cakes, pies and puddings without ever referring to a cookbook or having to use scales.   She fed the entire family - four children, my mother and father as well as my grandmother - from the vegetable garden in which she laboured every afternoon.   Things were pickled, jellied, bottled and frozen to eke out the harvest for an entire year.  

Watching her whip up a dish, seemingly out of nothing, has made me the cook and food lover that I am today.   It was also my downfall when it came to controlling my weight.  

From my early thirties onwards, I started to pile on the pounds.   I paid little heed to health professionals who told me I would be at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke or diabetes; I chose not to listen to occupational therapists, physios and gym instructors all of whom urged me to slim down in order to make living with my upper limb disabilities easier.   When I went for health checks, kindly doctors would urge me to replace butter with low fat spread, reduce my intake of red meat and keep my drinking within reasonable limits.  

I, after all, was a bon viveur - I even use this as my screen name on Skype.   I saw myself as a dissolute eighteenth century gentleman - breakfasting on roast partridge and port and continuing the day in similar vein until I fell into an alcohol-fuelled, over-fed stupor at the end of the day.  

Rotund and Rubenesque - life before Cambridge
Rotund and Rubenesque - life before Cambridge

Of course, from time to time, I would pretend to want to reduce my ample girth.   But these forays into weight-loss were mere diversions from the path I was treading - I would often convince myself that my visit to the fish and chip shop was more than justified by the gym workout or 1000 meter swim I had just completed.  

My decision to get a grip on my love-handles wasn't so much a damascene conversion - it was more a series of light bulb moments that, collectively, amounted to the blinding flash.  

I began work on my autobiography - something that had always been on a back-burner - at the insistence of a public speaking agent who told me I would get much better gigs if I had a book that would back up my message of positive thinking as a way of overcoming barriers that I had encountered in my 50 years.   As I began to reflect upon what I could possibly share with the rest of the world that would help anyone at all, it struck me that not being able to control my weight represented a massive personal failing.  

If you like, I did it to sell some books! But seriously, I didn't think that I could put myself out there in written form without proving to myself, and everyone else, that I could vanquish this particular demon. 

In May 2012 I decided that now was the time to get serious, to stop pretending to lose weight and do something meaningful.   I had always hated diets, especially crash diets.   I reasoned that they tend to encourage people to lose weight dramatically only to put it back on over the ensuing six or 12 months.   Controlling one's weight was, in my estimation, a question of a complete lifestyle change. 

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