I have always had a bit of a weight problem. It came partly out of having three grandmothers.
No, I was not part of a weird early seventies genetic experiment. I had the normal two (if you are lucky enough to have grandmothers – despite what follows they are wonderful things) but I also had a Great Aunt who lived across the road from us. As she had no children of her own I became surrogate grandchild and was expected to pop in every day to see if she was OK. Inevitably she would have been baking – she seemed to be baking all the time – and so the visit was usually into a heady atmosphere of freshly based scone, sandwich cake or, perhaps best of all, apple pie. I have still to find an apple pie its equal. I am not a great one when it comes to regrets but I so wish I’d been as interested in cooking as I am now as she has taken the recipe with her; but (un)fortunately I ate so much of it as a child that maybe I had already used up my universal quota by my early teens. So my parents fed me. My grandparents fed me – they’d grown up in times of hardship and were not going to see their only (or one of very few) grandchild starve (perish the thought). And on top of all of that I had the delicious baked goods production line across the road. I did not have to sneak the sweets and the chips into my diet they were more or less forced on me in some belief I was about to starve.
Those of a certain age will also know that eating in the seventies for a child is not a matter of choice. You eat what you were given on your plate that of course was non-negotiable. But on top of that you have the offerings of additional food, whether it be the freshly baked scones (can you resist? I think not) or the Sunday tea of sandwiches and cake that arrives on Sunday only about an hour and a half after Sunday dinner. On Christmas day, that was just about bearable. But to have that every Sunday, well, it was a bit much. But if you refused, however politely, it was clearly intended by you (and taken as) a deep personal insult. So you stuffed down a mini sausage roll and a slice of egg custard (my grandmother was not up to her sister’s ability in scones or apple pie but her egg custard was a fine thing) and try not to move too much for a while.
Back in the day at least when you were under ten you did not really care too much about the fact you were turning into a little balloon – especially as a lot of children grow by rounding out and then shooting suddenly up. But as I got into my teens and was conspicuously not getting any taller – I reached my adult height at about 12 – I started to have the slow but unerring realization that I was expanding at what I would later think of as Mr Creosote proportions. I think it was one particular day labouring back from the more distant rugby pitches at school that the thought struck me that I was fifteen and weighted fifteen stone. Thinking back to a physics lesson a year before the unpleasant fact dawned on me that at that point I had been fourteen and weighed in at fourteen stone – and even my slightly dodgy maths could see that this was not a tenable progression.
From that point on I started off on a more healthy path – one less sausage roll on Sunday and politely asking before she cooked it that maybe Grandmother could give me pizza rather than pizza and a huge plate of chips – and a lot of walking at college helped (together with no money). The best things that ever came to me in this area were (1) the concept of portion size and (2) one weekend afternoon when some very good friends (Tim, Phil – thanks guys) suggested ‘going for a run’ – and suddenly I found I had an exercise outlet I actually kind of enjoyed and was good enough at that I did not feel embarrassed doing it. And finally I started to feel a little better about myself and if not stop the universe like expansion then at least delay it; aging and the problems that brings is largely inevitable so I’m not even going to look like the person on the front of Men’s Health (but then, very few people do, and I bet he’s not over forty for a start!)
However, there is a darker side to this. I still think of myself as fat, and I think I always will. It does not matter how much weight I lose or how much exercise I do. I’m still ‘fat’. For me, that wound happened as a child and it will never fully heal.
These days I think it is far, far worse, and I see children who you can barely see in profile thinking they are ‘fat’. It is a real problem we have, to try and help people be more healthy and not set them up for problems in later life – and help enjoy the many physical delights that the world offers – you cannot and should not see everything ‘by car’ for instance, there is a real sense of achievement when you find something out of the way because you’ve <gasp> walked to it – but at the same time not make people feel that they are ugly. Because the reality is we are all gorgeous and we should be revelling in that and not always comparing ourselves to others. I really believe that and each of us should think of the people we love and wonder – when was the last time I told them they are beautiful?
[Important Note: The Lovely Wife consistently tries to help me think better of myself – it is what keeps me from despair in my own inabilities. I wish I was able to listen better.]