Here’s what I now know. We are all different. I lose weight when I am busy doing things I enjoy. Scales are bad for me
July 15, 2022 12:00 pm(Updated 12:27 pm)
I used to have mantras as I was eating cheese or chocolate straight from the fridge.
You’re only cheating yourself.
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
Then I’d get on the scales, discover I’d put on weight and eat something to cheer myself up.
I went on my first diet when I was 11. Look at any photos of me from back then and I’m slim. I was massively sporty – hockey, netball, volleyball, basketball – and cycled miles up and down hills to go to choir practice, bell ringing practice and to snog boys.
But most of my friends were properly skinny. It was the 70s. Levis. Cheesecloth shirts. James Taylor. Carole King. Skinny was the thing. And I wasn’t. I tried the grapefruit diet. The calorie counting diet. The egg diet. And for three days, the no food at all diet. Of course they didn’t work. I became obsessed. I thought about food all the time. About what I couldn’t have. And then I’d strap myself into a nosebag full of Curly Wurlies.
After A levels, I went to France with one of my very slender friends and we picked peaches in the south of France for the summer holidays. It was bliss. Pick a peach. Eat a peach. Flirt with Pedro, the expert peach picker.
My friend left. I stayed to follow a perky Portuguese medical student called Joāo to an apple farm. Pick an apple. Eat an apple… Then I went to the Job Shop and got a gig as an au pair in the Alps. When that ended, it was off to Brussels – the land of mussels and chips, dark chocolate and blonde beer.
I was looking after three children under eight years old and a dog called Zoot. And cleaning the four-storey house. The fridge was well stocked and so was I. Every day I would creep onto the scales and discover I’d put on another kilo. And go and have another wedge of cheese. In three months, I put on four stone.
By the time I came back to Britain, I was a balloon on legs. I was so unrecognisable my Mum walked past me at the train station. I’d cry every day and then eat a pack of butter with some toast attached. Mum suggested I see the GP and luckily, he’d known me since I was six and he knew me as an active and energetic child. I was determined to be all cool, calm and collected. Instead, I went in, said: “Look how fat I’ve got,” and burst into tears.
First of all he explained how my body was doing exactly what it was designed to do – storing fat ready for the lean times. It wouldn’t happen now… but he gave me tablets to “get me started”. They were brilliant. I zipped around all over the place, barely stopping to have a stick of celery and within a week, I had dropped the thick end of half a stone. It was enough to give me the boost I needed. From then on, it was a slow decrease over a period of three years to get to a weight I felt comfortable with. A couple of times I’ve managed to get super slim and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But it’s exhausting and impossible to keep up.
Here’s what I now know. We are all different. I lose weight when I am busy doing things I enjoy. Scales are bad for me. If I’ve put on weight, I console myself with chocolate. If I’ve lost weight, I congratulate myself with a pie. I know whether I’ve put on weight because my clothes are too tight. In which case, I cut down on stuff. I’ve worked out that bread makes me happy so I have a big slab of it washed down with vats of home made vegetable soup.
I cut down on fruit and try not to have cheese in the house. And go easy on the beer. If I’m out for dinner, I have two starters. If I know the portions will be small, I have a bowl of soup before I go out. It won’t work for everyone, but it works for me. We all find our own way.
I also know that I don’t have enough self-control to be able to maintain a steady weight, like some of my friends. I hate going to the gym and constantly monitoring my food and alcohol intake. But I also hate feeling sluggish, lethargic and lumpen – which is what happened when I got fat.
I’m also grateful that I’m healthy. I get asked if I now have a normal relationship with food. Possibly. I know the calorie count of most things and know what I need to swerve if I’m on a slim-down phase. But it’s difficult. I probably would have a normal relationship with food if I lived on a desert island. But I wouldn’t want to live on one because I doubt it would have a fridge in it. And where would I keep the cheese?
This week I have been…
Reading… Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. I actually do judge a book by its cover and I bought this along with Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (absolutely brilliant) and Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul (beautiful cover which makes me want to go to Istanbul again). Swing Time has a bright yellow cover and a big black and red font. I’m only a quarter of the way through and I’m totally gripped. It’s set in London, New York and West Africa and is about “two brown girls from Willesden who dream of being dancers. Only one – Tracey – has the talent. But the other has ideas which take her further than she could ever have imagined.” I love a funny book which deals with serious issues and this ticks all the boxes.
Watching… The Good Boss, which is described as a workplace comedy. Javier Bardem is the boss of a company which makes scales and wins lots of awards. Will it get the one that fills in the gap on the wall with all the others? Bardem is so good at being smarmy, charming, ruthless and immoral. There are tangled liaisons, a brutish start and an equally brutish incident later on. But there is comedy and a lightness of touch that make the whole thing very satisfactory. I’ve been a fan of Javier Bardem since Jamón Jamón, High Heels and The Sea Inside – one of those incredible films that stays with you for ever.
Listening to… a podcast called You’re Dead To Me. I download these “history light” programmes to listen to when I have a restless night. It’s interesting but not thrilling and helps me drift back to sleep. I can listen to the same podcast over and over again on various nights until eventually, I’ll do the ironing and listen all the way through. I’m not sure this is a great way of gathering knowledge. But I do still recall that Mansa Musa was possibly the richest person in history and Hatshepsut threw up a lot of obelisks and temples in ancient Egypt.
You can hear Penny Smith on Scala Radio from 4pm every weekday
If you or someone you love wants to get help, you can contact Beat, the eating disorder charity