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I’m a fluctuating fatty. At this time of year, having troughed piles of chocolates, cleared turkey lunches, picked through leftovers Nigella-style, drunk gallons of alcohol and eaten plate loads of canapés, I can feel my trouser buttons straining. Enough is enough. And I am not alone. January is traditionally the time we decide to dry out for the month or, even worse, join a gym. I shan’t be doing either.
I was not a thin child. Billy Bunter, that was me. Despite all manner of parental bribery, diets never worked. Our dog, Humphrey, inspired my first successful diet. He was an affable old English Labrador, so friendly he’d do a whole body shake to emphasise his pleasure at seeing you again. He had a lovely smile which hid his dark side. He had a penchant for stealing food.
One particularly warm day, he collapsed, and I rushed him to the vet who thought Humphrey was clinically dead as he couldn’t hear his heart. Not because it wasn’t beating, but because he was too fat. The dog was put on a strict diet, and lived happily and healthily for another three years. If the dog can lose weight, I thought, so can I.
But not without help. At university, I went to a diet clinic which handed out pills like Smarties at a children’s birthday party. This was before the days of regulation, and I honestly have no idea what was in them. However, I did lose weight. Five stone to be precise.
Although the pills accelerated the results, I now know that it is the mindset you have to adopt which is key to your success. This is a multimillion pound industry — it is possible to spend an awful lot of money on pills, gyms, equipment or fancy meal boxes when all you really have to do is eat less.
Although I have never returned to my grandest weight, every so often I have to rebalance.
Centuries ago, to be fat was a sign of affluence. But no more. The panacea of thinness — or even better, a gym-toned beach-ready body — is what the rich aspire to.
At this time of year, having gorged on everything in sight, there’s a chance that a button could ping off an item of clothing at any moment. Yet the shops are awash with skinny jeans and “slim fit” labels. If you look carefully, you might find some that say “custom fit”. What this actually means is “fat fit”. Thanks be to the godsend that is the Marks and Spencer “active waist” expandable trouser.
If your trouser cloth is also straining, then you either have to de-fat, or buy bigger clothes. Double XL is not an option.
At various times in my life I have been enthusiastic about regular exercise. Two of my former employers were so keen on fitness and wellbeing that they had a gym in the office. It is an excellent way to escape shuffling papers from one side of your desk to the other. But exposing your woeful levels of fitness in front of buff junior colleagues is not much fun.
Just after Christmas, people sign up in their droves to join a gym they will barely use. There are nearly 7,000 fitness centres in the UK and 14 per cent of the population are members. Membership is one thing, but going there to do some exercise is another thing altogether.
For £79 a month, I could join my local Virgin Active. For £99 a month, I’d get roving access. That’s £948 a year for the economy class option and £1,188 for the “yeah I could pop in on my way home” option. Yeah, right!
In any case, many gyms are vile places. The less you pay, the more crowded they are. The amount of disease you could pick up from the threadbare towels or verruca pit showers is too much to bear.
If you fancy a more upmarket experience where the machines are cleaned for you, boasting all the latest gym tech, luxury spa and a fab restaurant for your post-workout nosh-up, then head to KX (pronounced Kicks) on Sloane Avenue in Chelsea. I used to be a member. My package cost me £575 a month — but at least the towels were nice and the showers were filled with Kiehl’s products. And the bowl of apples on the reception desk was a nice touch.
But hang on a sec. Even if you go three times a week for 46 weeks of the year, that’s still £50 a pop. Yikes! No matter how much I want to be thin again, that’s just too much, even for someone like me.
There are “free” options. Those that pound the streets. Running. I always hated running. Probably a reaction to the dreaded “cross country” at school, which occurred when the rugby pitches were too soggy. The rain would be tipping down. Probably quite windy. Biting cold. Trudging five miles around the perimeter of desolate playing fields. There were a few sporty types who could do this with ease, striding off into the distance seemingly without losing a breath.
Even now, I hate runners. If, while out walking the dog, a runner approaches me, I am struck by a horrible affliction. I call this Runner’s Waft. As I soon as I hear the thud of trainer-clad feet approaching, I always breathe in, and do not exhale until they have passed, taking their sweaty vapour with them. Eesh.
But running is not free. You have to buy all the kit. Plus there will be a stack load of dirty washing as all that sweaty gear piles up, not to mention the knee operation you’ll need to repair all the damage you do to yourself.
No. This year, there will be no expensive gym membership. No running. No diet clinics or dubious pills and certainly no personal trainer. Throwing money at this problem or buying a new wardrobe is not the way to solve it. It’s mind over matter.
My method involves five days of control, and two days of relaxed eating. It’s my version of the 5:2 diet. It works. With a bit of willpower, one can easily learn how to order healthily from Michelin-starred menus, avoid the Bridget Jones guide to ice cream eating and only go supermarket shopping when you’re not hungry.
What’s more, I’ll celebrate when I reach my target weight by spending some of the money I have saved on a £450 pair of Balenciaga running shoes, just to prove I can work the athleisure fashion trend at the same time as owning several pairs of M&S slacks in preparation for the inevitable relapse.