Sunday, 19 February 2012

How not to get fat

I bounced into the health clinic expecting a glowing report, because I'm not in bad shape really, when you consider I've got two kids and a serious chocolate habit.

After lovely nurse Ruth stabbed me with a drawing pin I began to regret my decision to have a check-up  - after all I could have spent lunchtime reading Heat magazine - but now it was too late. Ruth pumped my thumb to get out sufficient blood ("like milking a cow") and popped the samples in a machine the size of my phone. Then came the really bad news ...
 ... my blood sugar and cholesterol numbers are too high.

"I am surprised," said Ruth and wrote out a letter for me to take to my doctor. I detected a note of mild reproach. She also gave me a couple of leaflets, whose message boiled down to this: get your lardy ass off that seat and go for a walk. Oh, and lay off the butter.

I skulked back to my desk, where I spent the afternoon glued to the Internet, looking up the symptoms of heart disease.

My physical health is not helped by my mental state. I am currently half living in 1930s Salford in dire poverty, shooing rats off the slopstone and working short-time at the mill to support my entire family on fifteen bob a week. This is because I've just finished Love on the Dole, Walter Greenwood's classic novel about industrial slum dwellers in the late 1920s. It was so gripping that I have moved straight on to his autobiography There Was a Time, which in some ways is grimmer, because it's non-fiction. Greenwood was a Salford lad who got out as soon as he had the means to. And frankly, I don't blame him. He and his friends wore rags, lived in bug-infested houses, and knew hunger. Sunday clothes were pawned all week by mums to buy food for the week. The workhouse was a genuine threat. The bad economic circumstances we face today pale by comparison.

Food consisted of, at very best, a Sunday roast ("the one meal of the week from which all were certain to rise replete"), chippie tea, with people carrying their own basins to the chip shop to be filled with fried potatoes, then bread and margarine. Greenwood describes lines of children outside a baker's, begging slices of "makeweight" bread - a chunk of bread added to a loaf to bring it up to an official weight.

I am interspersing this reading with Ian Marber's twenty first century classic, How Not to Get Fat. It tells me that if I eat very specific combinations of protein and complex carbohydrates, I should be able to stabilise my blood glucose levels. It also suggests that my high blood sugar numbers may have been influenced by my lunch just before my blood test: a cheese-filled baked potato, a handful of dried banana pieces covered in chocolate and a cup of tea.

It seems ironic that I and millions of others in advanced post-industrial nations are struggling with our weight, with diabetes and high cholesterol, which are conditions essentially of affluence and abundance - affluence and abundance that most of our forebearers toiling in mines, factories, fields and mills would have been fierce to attain. They might have considered death by heart disease at the advanced age of 70 a rare privelige and a sign of a comfortable life well lived. In fact, most of the world's population today may still feel that way.

Perhaps my high numbers are a blessing indeed. But I might just go out for a walk now.


  1. Good post. If you find an exercise you really enjoy, you'll keep doing it. And you can't go wrong with fruit. Oh, and I'm an admin clerk, not a fitness instructor, despite how I sound.

  2. Thanks! You have a fantastic blog name; I was really scared to click on it, but now I know you're an admin clerk, I'm slightly less frightened. Food's a good thing to blog about, isn't it? It connects to so many other things. BTW I like your Shoe Politics piece, and may steal the exercise to use with my writing group.

  3. Just wanted to check in and say how much I enjoyed this very thoughtful post, and the glimpse into early 20th century Salford. Yes, your perspective here is such a good reminder about how much we actually have and enjoy - and also, though, the hidden cost. Hope you can continue to indulge occasionally in foods you love and still get those numbers down as advised by your doc. Life's too short not to have a chocolate cupcake now and then. :) I like the advice above about finding exercise you love. Maybe put on some Prince and shake that not-at-all-lardy ass, even if the kids think you've gone off your rocker! :)

  4. Oooh, Prince. Now you're talking.