It was about this time last year that I decided I ought to lose weight. I had some good reasons for deciding to lose weight:
- I was too fat.
- That’s about it.
Actually it’s not as simple as that. I wanted to lose weight because I have a food addiction, and it was winning. Also I was ashamed of how I looked. And I almost always have been.
There are many reasons why people gain weight: there are those who put on weight after an active earlier life, as their metabolism slows down; there are those whose jobs mean that they have lots of eating and not much exercise (clergy a good example); there are those whose diet is limited due to geography or wealth; there are those who discovered beer in University and hang on to the beer habit when the other habits, such as sport, hijinks, and general larks, disappear.
But I am not of their number. I am one of a different group. I am a fatty. I am fat because I have always known I am a fatty.
If you are a fatty, you know immediately what I mean. Fat is truly a state of mind. It isn’t true that handsome is as handsome does (ugly, kind people are not handsome, just kind and ugly), but it is equally untrue that fat is as fat does. If you’re a fatty, then however thin you are, you’re still a fatty.
The criteria for being a fatty are twofold – firstly, you have something of a food addiction. Secondly, you know that your default state will always be fat. I was always being told by well-intentioned parents and grand-parents that I was too fat, and I believed them.
I don’t blame anyone for giving me a complex about my weight – but I certainly had one. I can remembering being ashamed of how I looked when at primary school, secondary school, University and beyond. Even when I had a growth spurt and was skinnier than most of my fellow pupils, I knew that I was just a thin fatty, and that the fat would come back. And of course it did.
Self-image is certainly part of it, but added to that is that famous “unhealthy relationship with food”. For me, food is a constant addiction, only unlike every other addiction you can’t give it up, you can only moderate your need for it. And if there’s one thing that fatties really don’t like the idea of, it’s moderation. We fatties work on a very decent, simple principle – if one is good, two is twice as good, and all of it is just great, thanks very much. When my wife overeats, she feels full for the rest of the day. When I overeat, I feel hungry. Moderation is for skinny people. That’s why they’re skinny, and why, unless I get a control on my eating, I look like a bin bag full of yoghurt.
It’s a socially embarrassing addiction, food, because you bear on your body the marks of your addiction. My shame over how I looked was always a factor in deciding what I did, thin or fat – because to me I was always fat.
Fatties cope with this social shame in two ways:
We might adopt the “happy fatty” routine – being a bon-viveur, enjoying their food. Of course that’s true – we enjoy our food. In fact we’d enjoy yours too if you gave us the chance. But the reality is that if you’re a fatty, you will eat whatever is available, fois gras or Pot Noodle. Alternatively, we might pursue the “there’s something wrong with my metabolism” routine. We only eat white fish and tomatoes in public, talk about glands or suchlike, before going home to finish the contents of the fridge.
I don’t blame people for having no sympathy. For some people it’s simply inconceivable that someone might choose to overeat. After all, all they need to do is to not put things in their mouth. If you’re not the sort of person to be addicted to anything, you won’t be able to understand. You won’t understand alcoholism, drug addiction, over-eating. That’s because you’re different. It’s not the same for you.
For instance, my wife eats little and often. She can break a Mars bar into sixteen bits and eat one a day, and then forget about the rest for days at a time. She can do this without the mars bar calling to her every moment of that day, occupying her every thought, as it would with me. When we go on walks, she has a supply of snacks, eating a little bit, quite often. I never eat when we’re on walks. Because if I started, I’d want to eat the entire contents of the rucksack, up to and including the cagoules.
Does that sound extreme? It is. We fatties are extremists – and the thing is, everyone is keen to help feed our addiction. If you’re overweight, it’s almost certain that you will be given more food and offered seconds far more often than if you are not. That’s the problem with being addicted to something that everyone consumes, and which is a part of everyday life.
Imagine being a heroin addict, where there are adverts on the television for a new, easy to prepare, delicious type of heroin that is on special offer at your local supermarket. Imagine half the TV programme schedules being occupied with “heroin connoisseurs”, many of whom are also addicts like you, exploring all the huge variety of heroin available in different cultures and geographic regions. Imagine going round to someone’s house and having them say “You look as though you like your heroin, would you like another helping of heroin? There’s plenty.” Imagine having to sit and watch whilst other people take just a little bit of heroin, and seem to manage with just that little bit. It’s bizarre.
Being a fatty is no-where near as horrible as being a heroin addict, but it’s an odd social world to live in. Even now, in a very healthy state, when I go round to lunch at someone’s house, and they have a “help yourself” lunch, ham, cheese, tomatoes, bread, etc, I have to impose strict rules on myself. No cheese, no refills. Otherwise I’d eat everything on the table, and then slope off to see what’s in the cupboards.
So that’s what it’s like being a fatty. Currently I’m in remission, I’m healthy, very fit, and enjoying it immensely. But I know on what shallow soil my health is founded. It doesn’t take much to slip off the wagon, and on to the waggon-wheels.
But why am I writing all this now? Because of my son. My son has put on a few wee pounds – nothing remotely unhealthy, and he’s certainly not overweight by any standards – he’s simply no longer the skinniest boy in school, which he was when we adopted him. He has been worrying about the fact that one or two of his friends have a “six pack” and he doesn’t. His friends tease him for being fat – when he’s not, not remotely. He’s nine years old, for heaven’s sake, and he’s being teased by his friends for not having a six-pack.
Unlike when I grew up, the TV is now full of ultra-styled teens and pre-teens, designed to look like models. There is not a bare male torso on tv, young or old, which isn’t “buff”. The advertisers try and sell junk food by showing skinny, muscular models eating it, and the pressure to be perfect is stronger than it ever has been. When me son is older they will try and sell him stuff to help him lose weight, and they’ll keep trying to sell him stuff that will make him put on weight. It’s a harder, mentally tougher world for the young, and there’s no escaping those pressures.
I’ve done everything I can to tell him he’s fine, that he’s healthy, he’s beautiful, and there’s nothing to be worried about. I hope he believes me. Because it’s true. Because being a fatty is a state of mind –a mental illness. And it’s one which we should not allow society to inflict on the young, in order to sell more stuff.