You know you’re fat when a media impresario walks up to you at a cocktail party, offers you their card and says: “Call me if you would like the number for my gastric band surgeon.”
Or if you’re in a sweat by the time you’ve walked the dogs to the postbox. Or when you’re invited to a posh lunch out and nothing from your pre-pandemic wardrobe fits.
After lockdown restrictions ended, my first luncheon engagement was at a members’ club that requires a shirt, jacket, and tie. The only way I could meet the dress code was to wear a button-down shirt (bigger neck size) with a tie loosely wrapped around my neck with the top buttons undone. My double-breasted jacket was worn as a single with an elasticated belt to prevent trouser explosion. A sorry situation.
While the nation worried about being pinged, I was suffering from a slightly different pingdemic — shirt buttons popping off as they strained under my increasing girth. There’s no easy way to say this. At 51 years old, I should not weigh 18 stone 8 pounds (that’s 118kg in new money).
I’ve lost weight successfully in the past, although I’ve spent my life going through thin and fat phases. Dieting is a mental game. If you want to lose weight it has to be at the top of your mind. All day. Every day. All this yo-yoing could explain why the diet industry is worth some £2bn to the UK economy every year and an estimated £140bn worldwide.
So how did I get into this mess? Working from home during the first lockdown I’d got into a good routine with long dog walks, a thriving veg patch and, of course, not going out.
But the boredom of further lockdowns led to takeaways and fun shopping trips to fill the pantry. My carb loading stretched to making my own bagels and pizza dough. As for the sweets, crisps and chocolate . . . did I mention I have the palate of an eight-year-old? By June this year, an intervention was needed.
There are some so-called “easy” solutions to weight loss. A gastric band will cost between £5,000 to £8,000. Although it undeniably works, some of the potential side-effects sound distinctly unpalatable. What’s the point in getting a beach-ready body if it’s scarred and unsightly? I may as well just get some tattoos. Anyway, many of the people I know who have had the procedure spend most of their waking hours grazing in an attempt to beat the system.
Recently, one of my brothers had a very successful defatting experience by using Balance Box, a company offering a “complete” dietary solution, delivered to your door. This costs from £24.99 a day. For a 12-week programme, that’s well over £2,000, which seems a bit steep to me.
Yes, if you stick to their diet, you’ll lose weight. But the day you reach your goal and stop the boxes, you’ll probably revert to your old habits and pile the pounds back on. We’ve all seen that movie (usually with the ice cream and popcorn accompaniment too).
On a few occasions in my life, my mother (aka The Wendy) has warbled into my deaf ears that dietary matters are getting out of hand. This time, she was joined by the other half — or should I say other third — who feared they would soon become the other quarter. Gulp.
The Wendy said that 12 years ago, my dad had what she termed a “trouser problem” in the sense that none of them fitted him any more. He had dieted successfully with the help of a nutritionist named Michele (with one “l”). “Why don’t you call her?”
I agreed and, for once, The Wendy was silenced, swiftly texting me the number before I changed my mind.
Michele (with one “l”) turned up at the agreed time with her medical scales, leaflets explaining her dietary principles and a booklet where you must write down everything you eat. While nothing is off limits, she told me, if you want to lose weight then anything delicious, processed or taken away is not advised.
The first week is always the toughest. Until you’ve trained your friends, it may be safer to turn down their generous offerings. But Michele had plenty of tips for home and restaurant dining.
She advised I should replace my red meat with fish, explaining “if it swims, it slims”. Smart-arse comments, such as cows can swim, don’t wash with her. You’ll receive an eye roll.
Mixing proteins and carbs is to be avoided, but filling up on plenty of fresh fruit and veg is encouraged. This may seem obvious, but her £30-a-visit guidance sessions — and the accountability of her weigh-ins — are invaluable.
And it’s essential to have goals. For the first time in what seems like forever, I have an overseas holiday planned. I don’t want people running up to me on the beach with wet towels before attempting to drag me back into the water.
Later this year, I am the MC at the wedding of James McVey (lead guitarist with The Vamps) and his fiancée Kirstie. Their friends are pop stars, celebs and beautiful young people. I don’t want to be Billy Bunter on the mic.
The older I get, the more I realise that health isn’t something to be taken for granted. Yet there are so many fatties like me, a Frankfurt-based group of boffins have come up with the Solactive Obesity Index which “tracks the performance of companies positioned to profit from servicing the obese” (amusingly, it’s Bloomberg ticker is ‘SLIM ID’).
The index is hovering around record highs thanks to repeated lockdowns, reflecting the performance of companies including healthcare providers, makers of diet pills and insulin pumps, and purveyors of plus-size clothing.
A surprising thing about obesity is the money to be made. It’s not just the companies we know about in food, fitness kit and weight loss, but the ones behind treatments for minimally invasive medical devices to treat cardio-cerebrovascular and peripheral vascular diseases such as Lifetech Scientific Corporation or Microport.
And in the drugs to assist those in medical difficulties such as Hua Medicine, a Chinese company focused on diabetes treatments. As we look for more interesting ways to invest, this index is a niche to be noted. After all, it has risen since the pandemic as populations around the world have ballooned under lockdowns.
But I don’t want to become another statistic. Seven weeks in and I have lost more than 12 kilos — nearly two stone in old money, and more than one-third of my weight loss goal. I no longer look obese. I feel a lot better, and at least some of my clothes fit.
But this is a marathon and not a sprint (and it’s a long time since I’ve attempted one of those). All the money I’m spending in the quest to slim down is saving the need to purchase a new XXL wardrobe. But I am afraid I still need to have a few glasses of fizz at the weekends. They’re worth the inevitable eye roll.
James Max is a radio presenter and property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax