It’s not that I’ve fought a lifetime battle with my weight. To be honest, I pretty much threw in the towel as a chubby teen.
I enjoy eating. And it’s not like smoking or drinking (the latter of which I do but of late have been doing less of). One must eat to live, unless of course you’re one of those silly fakirs who apparently eat nothing and survive on “energy” or something.
I don’t even have an appetite for crap.To be honest, I’m a bit of a foodie. I’m even prepared to pay a little bit extra for quality and humane farming. I cook from scratch most times and I’m creative in the kitchen. I’m not much of a fan of fast food (though I do like the increasingly odd Chinese takeaway) and I’ve never understood how my son can eat pizza for lunch, dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast.
But I’ve had an abusive relationship with food since before I were a teenager. Yes, I eat the right stuff; I just eat too much of it.
In some ways I’m lucky. I’m 6ft 4in tall and the extra weight hangs “well” on me but there’s no disguising the fact that I could stand to lose a few pounds.
And it’s only now that I’ve worked out exactly where I’ve been going wrong.
Hands up if you heard this when you were a kid: “Eat it all up. There are children starving in Africa!”
A simple enough thing to say to an impressionable child. Especially if you survived an era where to waste food was literally a crime. To a large extent I was Granny-reared, and my Granny had had to fend for a family of four despite the rigors of rationing.
“Eat it all up. There are children starving in Africa!”
There were indeed. There still are — perhaps because I did what I was told and ate up all of my dinner so they didn’t have to, like a good little soldier.
And so it began: I’ve never left a meal unfinished since.
I even unwittingly attempted to pass the same philosophy on to my own kids. Luckily for them their mum came from a home where the message at mealtimes was more likely to be: “Eat what you can” or “Don’t eat it now. It’s gone cold.”
Did you know I love cold food?
This memorably came to ahead when my daughter, then aged six, refused to chew and swallow a chunk of roast lamb even though her dad insisted she was never going to leave the table until she did.
That lamb was never swallowed. My daughter left the table with the spongey morsel of overchewed flesh deposited at the side of the plate, largely due to the intercession of her mum. Good for her. Good for both of them. Dads aren’t always right.
Yet until just a few weeks ago I’d never connected my wife and kids’ attitude to food with my own weight issues. I’d been the only one in step, I thought. Perhaps that’s why my kids eat anything they like and still don’t have to shop at the outsize shop.
Still, it had started to dawn on me over the last few months that my real weight problem had more to do with my mind than my metabolic rate.
I realised I have an abusive relationship with food. I am the sort of person who takes the exhortation “all you can eat” as an instruction rather than a handy money-saving tip. I also eat like I have a train to catch, and I multitask at dinner time: I stuff my face while watching TV, reading my email or playing on the X-Box.
So, actually, it seems I don’t attach much importance to food. I don’t give it the respect due. There are children starving in Africa, you know. So why don’t I appreciate how good it is to be someone who these days never has to wonder where my next meal’s coming from?
Anyway, so I began to consider the possibility that it was my brain which needed diet advice. My first thought was that I could somehow get myself “reprogrammed” — I even downloaded a talking book that promised to “hypnotise myself slim!” I’ve still not read (heard) it.
Then I was walking through the books section of my local hypermarket when I spotted Paul McKenna’s “I Can Make You Slim” and slipped it into my trolley. I’ve not read that either, but I know someone who has.
My gorgeous better third — who was sceptical about buying McKenna’s tome in the first place — has nevertheless read it and saved me the trouble by faithfully relaying pertinent excerpts. One of these is all about the phrase: “Eat it all up. There are children starving in Africa!”
McKenna is direct about the feeling that one is somehow letting the side down by not clearing one’s plate.
I paraphrase, of course, but McKenna points out that no cook ever felt insulted by such an act of petty rebellion; no child in Africa ever felt their personal hunger satisfied by such a selfless act.
McKenna urges people like me to always leave something on their plate, however small, as a sign that they have stopped eating, with one small proviso: don’t be a cock.
Well, that’s shorthand for several commonsense provisos, including …
- stop when you’re full (whenever that is),
- eat slowly and savour your food, and
- if you forget not to stop don’t beat yourself up; simply try again next time.
Easier said than done perhaps. After all, I’ve been clearing my plate for several millennia now. Buffets have been the worst: think of it this way, your plate never empties!
Well, as the old adage has it: “six weeks to make a habit, six weeks to break one”.
Surprising then that it’s taken a little less than half of that time to effect a huge change in my eating habits. So much so that when I go to lunch with workmates now I’m often surprised that I’m the only one not to clear my plate. And I’m eating slower too.
Now this not going to make me svelte and lissom overnight but, logically, if I’m dishing up the same size portions as I used to (which I am), I’m simply not consuming the amount of food I was. In that my weight has been stable for years now, simply eating less each day has to have some effect.
It might already be. Are those clothes actually looser these days? Is it just wishful thinking?