Nine months ago – six months before the wedding – I’m standing in the bathroom at my father’s house, looking at myself in the mirror. I’m trying on his spare kilt, in the family tartan, over the top of the jeans and t-shirt I had been wearing already. Frankly, I look fucking ridiculous – and not just because I’m adorned in the fetching pleated skirt of an ancient highland warrior. Rather it’s because I look so fat and uncomfortable that I can barely breathe.
It’s early February, and after a fun Christmas and a harsh winter spent sheltering in some of North London’s cosiest football pubs, taking on several pints and a regular takeaway pizza, I’ve tipped the scales at 18 stone. I’ve thought “something must be done” on several occasions before, as every bloated, wheezing mid-20s walking obesity crisis has surely done in the cold, sweaty light of day; but when my assembled family, including my fiancée, suppress embarrassed gasps at the utter state of me in my straining highland dress, well, something must be done.
Resolved and united, my intended and I take deep breaths and join Weight Watchers’ online service together. It’s a few quid a month and involves recording everything you eat, as well as any exercise you do, on their planner. You’re given a budget of “points” to use during the day and a sort of overflow budget for when you go over during the week. Everything you eat and drink has its own points value and the trick is balancing it all and not “going over” too much on any one day. Then, once a week, you weigh yourself.
I know, I know. You’re cringing already aren’t you? Well, desperate times call for desperately un-manly measures. The website is very much not set up for a male audience (lots of stock photos of middle-aged mums looking just over-the-moon to have squeezed into that lovely frock from Asos – not so many of beaming lads happily exhaling in their new ‘L’-size Notts County shirt) and nor are the support forums. You’re not going to feel cool or macho, doing this, I told myself – but this is no time for worrying about maintaining your appearance (you look like shit, after all), but fixing it.
Times you won’t look cool or macho: attending a Sunday night aqua-aerobics class at the local council pool. You’ll be flailing around to JLS, foam weights in hand, the only man in the water, trying to pretend that the buff lifeguard blokes aren’t going behind the diving board and fucking pissing themselves. You’ll wince when the teacher shouts “give yourself a round of applause, ladies!” at the end of every class.
You also won’t look cool when you’re at the pub, watching the football and trying to hide the fact that you know you really shouldn’t be drinking pints. A pint of lager works out as seven points on the Weight Watchers scheme. By comparison, a glass of wine is three, a short with a diet mixer is two. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried watching football in the pub drinking a small but robust Merlot. It doesn’t, fundamentally, work. At one stage I try the whiskey-and-Diet-Coke route, but it leaves me feeling disappointingly philosophical when the desperate heartbreak of the Champions League knockout stages roll around.
And you definitely won’t feel cool when, over a light weekend breakfast, you accidentally tut at your fiancée’s decision to have a bit of extra sugar on her Weetabix and she calls you a “fucking Weight Watchers Hitler”.
Did I quit drinking, eat only salad and take up running every morning? Did I fuck.
So, after a while you start wanting to make concessions – to live a bit more like yourself. In fiction, when a character needs to lose some weight, the director cuts to a montage of them eating crunchy salad, joining the gym and drinking mineral water. Simon Pegg jogs around Notting Hill at 5am, Demolition Man runs up and down some stairs. It looks like a miserable, thankless, embarrassing way to treat yourself over a long period of time. After all, you can’t just go for one run and eat one salad. You have to do it every day. Which would (and does) suck.
The truth, though – what no one ever told me – is that it doesn’t have to be nearly so horrible. I sit here now, eight months after joining Weight Watchers, having lost well over four stone. My dad’s original kilt turned out to be too big for me and after hiring a smaller one I look (if I do say so myself) like the absolute nuts in my wedding photos. If I were a Notts County fan I’d not only be beaming, I’d be glancing over at the ‘M’ shirts in the club shop. And did I quit drinking, eat only salad and take up running every morning? Did I fuck.
I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single week when I haven’t had a least one or two nights out on the lager, or found myself tucking into a plate of chilli nachos at Big Red on Holloway Road. I’ve woken up at Edmonton bus depot, covered in Pizza GoGo and smiling like a twat. And I’ve lost weight almost every week.
You should moderate the calorie intake, of course – but I’ve found that you also need to moderate the “diet” if it’s really going to work.
The first thing is – do easy stuff. Reduce the carbs early doors: so potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. You don’t have to give them up, just eat way less of them. We got by very nicely on spicy vegetable soups, Bolognese and curries; just have less pasta and rice with them and you’re losing weight already. Steer clear of things like pizza, pies and fry-ups, obviously (heartbreaking, I know), but then you’ll find that even if you’re having a takeaway at the weekend you could still be doing much worse. One way to have fun with Weight Watchers’ database is to look up the Wetherspoons’ food menu. After a few weeks on the diet their large mixed grill with baked potato takes on the appearance of a delicious suicide attempt.
The exercise can also be done at your own pace. Apart from the excruciating-yet-effective aqua-fitness classes, the idea of working out in a gym is total anathema to me. I’ve never been able to stomach the flexing, preening, date-rapist twats that hang around in such places – instead just playing a bit of tennis at the weekend and taking walks on my lunchbreak made a huge difference.
In the end, women are right: it feels great to look at the scales and see a smaller number than you saw the previous week. It also feels good to be complimented on how healthy you look – but beware, there are few things more awkward than a straight man trying to find a way to compliment another straight man on his “figure”, even in this day and age.
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