Feeling the Burn

Posted on Thursday 31st January, 2013

To say that the first few days were difficult is something of an understatement: my mind roved madly from one subject to another, never able to settle and concentrate properly.   My mood swung violently and I was often irritable. 

Midsummer in Sweden - a time for feasting
Midsummer in Sweden - a time for feasting

I remember a trip to a nursery, specialising in herbs.   It was a warm day and I began to feel light-headed and lethargic.   It dawned on me that if I didn't sit down soon, I would fall down and possibly lose consciousness.   Recognising my distress, my friend steered me into the tea room and insisted that I had a good cup of tea accompanied by a scone with jam and clotted cream.   What bliss! After four days of starvation - sorry, ketosis - my body drank in the calories, the carbohydrates and sugars.  

Strangely, two days later I awoke feeling optimistic and highly energetic.   This, apparently, is quite common.   The body gets used to ketosis and starts to adapt.  

But I never felt - as others claimed to - full after one of the delicious Cambridge meals.   Hunger came to be a permanent state of being.   In a perverse way, I almost felt that I deserved it: it was penance for the years of abuse to which I had subjected my body.  

As predicted, I began to shed the kilos in an extremely satisfying way - at a rate of around two a week.   What was more, I managed to keep up with my exercise regime without experiencing the dizziness that overcame me at the Herb Farm.  

There were weekly consultations with Pani Ewa, during which not only was weight monitored but chest and waist measurements were compared with the previous week's data.  

One of the most affirming things about doing Cambridge was the fact that my gym equipment required me to enter my current weight before I was able to use, for example, the treadmill.   And, week by week, the number that I entered went down.  

When I started my diet, I weighed 89.6 kg - the equivalent of just over 14 stone, for those who have yet to master the simplicity of the metric system.  

I had originally told Pani Ewa that my target weight was 75 kg but, as my waistline became trimmer, I revised this down to 70 kg, with a mental upper limit of 75 at times of the year when feasting is almost mandatory.  

About seven weeks after I had started the diet, I went to Sweden to spend Midsummer with friends.   This is most definitely one of those occasions when feasting is on the cards.   I promised my friends that there would be no diet on Midsummer's Day.   Not only that, but I would break my abstinence from alcohol.  

The thing about ketosis is that it doesn't take very many shots of Swedish vodka to intoxicate one's body.   On Midsummer's Eve, I rather over-indulged and started Midsummer's Day with a cracking hangover.  

Deliciously tempting but hard to stomach
Deliciously tempting but hard to stomach

But we had herrings, potatoes, moose and a whole smörgåsbord of other delights to look forward to - or so I thought.  

My stomach had become unused to the assault of rich food and - while the consumption of the various delicacies was unbelievably pleasurable - it wasn't long before a gastric protest movement had swung into action.  

I have vivid memories of lying on my bed, doubled over in agony and clutching my stomach.   The thought of returning to the safety of the powdery concoctions from Cambridge had a distinct appeal.  

Strawberries are a particular feature of the Midsummer festivities in Sweden.   Those that we consumed - perhaps because of the privation of previous weeks - seemed particularly sweet and juicy.   As my Cambridge experience spanned May to October, and because I am such an avid consumer of fruit, I felt particularly pained at the thought of denying myself the season's harvests.  

As with so many of my favourite comestibles, a good deal of my time was spent in contemplation of a return of the good times: it was something to look forward to.  

As time passed, and body fat began to disappear, the weight-loss became less spectacular.   By the beginning of September, I weighed around 77 kg and - while the end was in sight - it was frustratingly elusive.   I would chide myself for the occasional lapse when I would resort to eating half a dozen Tuc biscuits to keep the hunger pangs at bay.   In the world of the orthodox Cambridge disciples, such indulgences were strictly verboten.   If my weight-loss - and I tried to restrict myself to a weekly rather than a daily check - was disappointing, I would immediately blame it on my weakness of character for having partaken of the forbidden cracker.   This is not an altogether healthy way of thinking. 

It's hardly surprising: I'm sure that depriving the body of its usual nutrition must play havoc with one's psychological as well as physiological well-being.  

Nonetheless, by the end of September, I had dipped below my 75 kg original target and was still - slowly but surely - shedding weight.   I made a deal with myself that, come what may, I would not be doing Cambridge after the end of October. 

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