A number of years ago I decided that I needed to lose some weight. There were a couple of pizza shops in the town that used to welcome me with arms wide open of a Friday evening. And, as the years passed the arms opened wider.
Typically the start to the weekend might have involved pizza, a tasty Australian (wine!), a video and planting myself on the sofa for the long haul. The resulting Saturday morning then kicked off with what my friend Marty once described to an aghast dinner lady in the Queen’s refectory as an occupied six counties fry. Oh happy days! Saturday night, maybe a night out and possibly a curry chip or some other feed on the way home.
Not feeling great, I went to the doctor and he suggested that it might be a good idea to try and lose weight. I had to say I agreed but it was easier said than done. Running the length of myself had become challenging. Once before I had taken the head staggers and decided to go to a meeting of Weight Watchers. I pictured the horrendous scenario that would unfold. Like an AA meeting “Hi, I’m Joe and I eat anything that moves”. I had walked into a meeting in a local hotel, turned, and walked straight back out again. Faced with the blank stares of a half a dozen ladies that looked like refugees from Pixar’s Wall E. The flight reaction took over. I cleared. Never again, I thought.
But, when the doc gazes at you over the top of his specs, looks solemn and tells you to lose weight, and emphasises he’s not joking, that’s the time to do something radical.
I’ve always been a sackcloth and ashes type of person and can feel very sorry for myself at times but also as I have got older I have realised in life, that what goes around comes around, especially if it’s a delivery man.
So, for all my addiction to pizza, chinese, McDonalds kebabs, and sinking pints of stout, bottles of red wine, there comes a day of reckoning. I think I have a dependence on processed foods that I partly blame on a student life eating fishfingers and Birds Eye Pancakes. To everything its place, and everything in its place. That place was my gut and I decided that whatever it took, I was going to face up to whatever it took.
Cometh the hour and cometh the man. Sheepishly. Weightwatchers took place on a Monday evening and I headed down to my first meeting. I arrived into Weightwatchers Central room feeling a fool. How low had my life descended that I had to undergo this humiliation?
There were wall-to-wall women, a number of whom I recognised from the Pizza shop, the Chinese and off licence. Some I knew by name and we mumbled acknowledgements to each other, eyes lowered as if we had each discovered the other’s guilty secret. I straightaway decided to prostrate myself at the altar of humiliation. Desperate situations and all that. . . only by total and abject remorse, and self-vilification could I move on.
The Weight watchers lady was a cheery blondie doll called Daphne. She had definitely got with the programme and she exuded the bright enthusiasm of a true convert. She was assisted by a happy lady called Margaret, who breezily relieved me of the signing on fee and handed me a load of documentation cum propaganda. It was to become my bible for the immediate future. I looked at Daphne and tried to imagine what she looked like fat. . .
I took my place in line for the weigh in and felt excruciatingly embarrassed. This was awful, but in a perverse way I could hear my inner voice saying, serves you right you lazy shit, you think you can live like a mess without becoming one?
I could hear Daphne up ahead cluck clucking like a mother hen at those that had managed to shed a point or two and then her disapproving tut tut at some poor bastard who had erred and put on a pound. Some of the ladies looked genuinely distraught at the bad news, their week of good intentions and guilty eating in tatters. Meanwhile behind me newcomers frantically changed out of work shoes into bedroom slippers or flip-flops in a last ditch effort to beat the scales. By that stage though, the damage had usually been done.
I always marvelled at this mental approach. Surely if your diet was 100% fat the previous week, what’s the point of changing your shoes? What happened to accountability and facing your weaknesses? These people were in the crucible of shame yet they were still in denial. I’ll never f***in do that shit I told myself. As if.
And so Daphne hit me with my true weight, whatever it was. Talk about facing up to your inadequacy. It was embarrassing, humiliating – some woman I didn’t know telling me I was an overweight slob. Words like morbidly obese slurped around in my brain. In reality none of us like to face the truth and again in reality she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. In a perverse way as each week went by I took a vicarious pleasure in the variations in my weight. Like the woman shedding her shoes, I realised taking it easy on a Monday food wise and a leisurely trip to the bog before the weigh in helped. As Al Pacino says, it’s the inches.
Occasionally I would fail miserably and Daphne would tut tut and admonish me. On these occasions I still turned up, rather then cower at home in disgrace. ‘Bad week then Joe?’ she would chirp, unaware that I had spent the previous 72 hours away with my friends in Dublin lowering stout at an alarming rate; running up a ridiculous tab in Eddie Rockets at about 4:00 in the morning, and meandering home covered from face to waist in chilli sauce from an unmanageable kebab. Try counting the points in that Daphne I thought to myself through a fugue of self-disgust.
At other times she cooed at me like a lovebird – one week I shed an alarming seven pounds having taken up running the beach and started training to play hurling. I soon then realised that the weight watchers regimen isn’t really designed for people who go on a massive calorie burn. This meant according to their points system for food, that I was so much in credit from my exercise routine that the only way I could make up the units was. . . you guessed it, to eat a pizza and drink a bottle of wine. I was still losing weight. All of a sudden a pair of jeans I hadn’t been able to get into in years were roomy indeed. People started to comment on how much weight I’d lost and how well I’d looked. They didn’t realise the shit I had to eat to look like that.
For six months other than my blowouts made possible by running and running and running the beach, my diet was tasteless. Bland. Boring. Eating is supposed to be one of life’s pleasures. For me it became a routine, a matter of no pleasure whatsoever. It was like the filling of a pail.
I would bounce into the kitchen, drink about a litre of water, eat a tin of tuna with a small amount of pasta, no sauce, maybe some parmesan. Little bread. At that time Sainsbury’s sold these big langoustine shrimp like things called crevettes. They were delicious with chilli sauce. Each Saturday lunchtime I ate them in alarming amounts. The reason? I had discovered they were almost points free. Otherwise it was tuna. Weetabix. One biscuit. Two pieces of chocolate. All the time counting them points, counting, counting counting. Before bedtime I might discover I had three points left and enjoy the guilty pleasure of a third of a Twix. I learned that Star Bars and Snickers bars are the Divil’s own chocolate bars.
I read one time about a footballer that ate only tuna sandwiches, no Sweetcorn, onion, mayonnaise. Nothing. A fish sandwich. I thought him an extremist. I became that soldier.
So what happened? Well it was simple. I stopped going. I reckoned I could keep myself in check by self-discipline, a foolhardy promise if ever there was one. And so now I operate my own regimen. Does it work? Well I managed to restore some of the lost pounds that vanished thanks to Daphne. She could no doubt tell me where the remainder are and how I might find them.
It is a strange set up Weight Watchers – one indoctrinated you become very conscious of what you eat and how good or bad for you it can be. However a more simple approach is to use simple maths. If you put in more than you take out you become bigger. Doesn’t matter how long you sit on the bog or how weightless your bedroom slippers are. Occasionally I find one of my Weight watchers points sheets and I wistfully look back to my days as a signed up member of the faithful.
Will I ever go back? Well, you never say never. Maybe if Sainsbury’s restock them crevettes. . . in the meantime. Anyone for a fish sandwich?