Farewell to Cambridge - or is it Au Revoir?

Posted on Thursday 31st January, 2013

As it turned out, the end came much more quickly than I had expected: I made a visit to Pani Ewa on October 22.   During our meeting, she presented me with a cerise-coloured ribbon, embossed with the Cambridge logo.   This was cut to the exact length of my waist on the day that I had first consulted her - 112cm.  

A new look at the end of an epic journey
A new look at the end of an epic journey

It seemed to me that she was telling me that my work was done.   She placed the ribbon around my middle and demonstrated an extremely satisfying gap where the old me used to be.   My waist was now 97cm.  

Two days later - having said that I would continue until the end of October - I suddenly couldn't bear the thought of another ersatz meal.   I wanted proper food and an end to the succession of sachets on which I had depended for half a year.  

Now, the hard work would begin.   Having endured for so long, I was desperate not to have to repeat the exercise again - ever.   Cambridge has a plan to phase in fats, sugars and carbohydrates so that your weight doesn't yoyo.   In any case, I had to disprove my GP who had predicted that, "diets like this never work".  

I was extremely wary of the usual staples like bread and potatoes.   Healthy eating would have to be a permanent state of being, not something to be practiced occasionally.  

I started by reducing the Cambridge products from three to two a day for a fortnight and then one a day for a further two weeks.  

Fruit was one of the things that I re-introduced first.   In late October, there is still an abundance of autumn favourites like Green Williams pears, and clementines and satsumas start to appear.  

One of the things I always used to miss when I lived outside the UK was really well-cooked fish and chips.   I'm blessed in Pinner with an extremely fine establishment that I would frequently patronise on my way home from the gym.  

Handle with care - you can have too much of a good thing
Handle with care - you can have too much of a good thing

I used to look through the car window longingly during the summer of 2012 as I sped home to another supper of 'vegetable flavour soup' with a side order of celery sticks and cucumber.  

Now, I was ready to treat myself.   I approached my first fish'n'chip supper with a good deal of trepidation.   It was almost as though I would wake up the following morning having regained the 18 or so kilos that I had lost over a six month period.   Ludicrous, but such is the mindset that Cambridge managed to bestow upon me.  

The Pinner emporium is nothing if not generous.   Welcoming me back to the fold, the owner said he had slipped in an extra piece of fish because the haddock that I had ordered was a little on the small side, in his opinion.   In fact, it was substantial as was the 'small' portion of chips.   I cut the haddock into three - reserving just the middle part for myself - discarded about 60% of the chips and sat down to eat.   It would be fair to say that my cats dined in style on the evening in question!

In retrospect, the fish and chips were far more pleasurable in the contemplation than in the consumption.   Though perfectly good, I haven't been tempted to return.   The same could equally be said for other, former indulgences: I'm a particular fan of Melton Mowbray pork pies, especially those made by Dickinson & Morris.   But post-Cambridge, I've probably only eaten two or three.  

I've come to the conclusion that maintaining my weight, and confounding the expectations of my GP, involves a life-long commitment to eating sensibly.   Rather like physical fitness, it's a never-ending journey - not a destination in itself.  

Ever eager to harness technology to do the heavy lifting, I now have a little electronic friend who sits at my elbow and counts my calories for me.   MyFitnessPal is a free app for iOS, Android and the Web that really does make it easy to control your intake.  

You start off by telling it how old you are, what sort of lifestyle you have and whether you want to lose, gain or maintain weight; it then determines a daily calorie limit - in my case 1450 - and then everything that you eat is deducted from the total.   It is underpinned by a vast online database of foods to which users add all the time.   Even relatively obscure Polish dishes appear there, as does the scandinavian knekkebröd which I now eat instead of bread.   There is also a handy barcode scanner so that items can be identified without the need to type in the details.  

Just after I'd finished with Cambridge - or thought I had - someone alerted me to the Michael Mosley 5:2 or Fast Diet.   The idea here is that, if you spend a couple of days consuming 500 calories (600 for men), you don't need to worry too much about the rest of the week.  

This seemed to me like a very sensible way of balancing out the odd splurge; but how to do it? The simple answer, in my case, is to have two days a week when all I consume is - you've guessed it - Cambridge products! Of course, I could carefully negotiate my way through the calorific minefield of my refrigerator.   But simply adding water to three sachets of powder seems so much less fuss.   Anyway, I treat myself by adding a portion of celery and cucumber to lunch and dinner and even the odd Tuc biscuit.  

So far, in spite of Christmas and then my birthday, it's working.   When I finished Cambridge, my scales read 71.2 kg.   This week I weighed in at 73.2.  

Of course, I can never afford to let up.   If I know that I will be dining in an up-scale restaurant and consuming a glass or three of good wine, I spend the rest of the day on Cambridge food - fortifying the breakfast milkshake with a banana.  

The self-imposed starvation diet has demonstrated to me, beyond any doubt, that people in the developed world overeat, regularly and to the detriment of themselves and their nearest and dearest.   I promised myself that, when my diet was over, I would never take food for granted again.   So far, that promise has held good.  

We are surrounded by constant exhortations to over-consume and to damage our health.   A recent visit to a local supermarket revealed products that are marketed with labels like "Fridge-Raiders" and so on.   Add to that increasing culinary illiteracy and the inexorable march of the fast food conglomerates, and the outlook is not good.  

If the corporations who caused the damage were made to pay for people's medical treatment - and the same should certainly apply to alcohol and tobacco - the figures would start to stack up very differently.  

It's too easy, though, to blame global capitalism for the obesity epidemic to come: nobody forces anybody to eat too much or to consume unhealthy food.   People need to reconnect - not just with their bodies - but with basic, good ingredients and simple cooking.   The Government's 'five a day' message barely scratches the surface of the problem.  

In my case, was it all worth it? Well, apart from a bruised coccyx - the result of losing my natural cushion - I feel much healthier and happier in my skin.   One of the most enjoyable afternoons I have spent recently was going to buy an entirely new wardrobe of clothes.   And as a further disincentive to corporal expansion, I've thrown away, or given to charity, all of my 'fat' clothes.  

Taking control of my body is something I should have done many years ago.   At least I've seen the light now and can look forward to a more trouble-free, if somewhat abstemious middle age.   Given all of the musculo-skeletal problems that people with thalidomide disabilities are encountering, I'm sure that my body will thank me and, hopefully, last a little bit longer. 

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