Daniel Finkel­stein shares the se­cret of how he got from fat to fit.

Friday - - Contents -

Ineed you to help me solve a mys­tery. When peo­ple say that they for­got to have lunch, how does that hap­pen?

I have lived for 19,167 days and I have never, not once, for­got­ten to have lunch. The num­ber of lunches I have had will be bounc­ing around the 19,162 mark. And the miss­ing ones, well, I am sure there was a rea­son, but I can tell you that the omis­sion wasn’t the re­sult of a lapse of mem­ory. Ac­tu­ally, I don’t think the whole thing is quite as mys­te­ri­ous as I am pre­tend­ing it is. The truth is that other peo­ple – the lunch for­get­ters, my friends, pretty much any­body, re­ally – just don’t care about lunch as much as I do. Which isn’t hard, be­cause I care about lunch a lot.

I am not sure when I first re­alised this. I think it was ac­tu­ally rel­a­tively re­cently. Cer­tainly within the last decade. But I don’t eat like other peo­ple eat. I start and I just keep go­ing. I’m like a sen­tence with­out a full stop.

At a party with canapés, I be­gan to no­tice that the num­ber I ate didn’t cor­re­spond to the num­ber con­sumed by ev­ery­one else. Now, I am sure that some of you are nod­ding and think­ing, ‘Yes, I know what he means. I do that too’. You don’t. You don’t do that too. With­out wish­ing to sound like I am a school­boy in a com­pe­ti­tion, I do it more than you.

It’s like when peo­ple say to me, ‘It’s re­ally odd. I eat what­ever I want and I don’t get fat’. That is be­cause eat­ing what­ever you want doesn’t in­volve eat­ing enough to make you fat. You, my friend, for all your boast­ing about eat­ing what­ever you want, are a clas­sic lunch for­get­ter.

I ate what­ever I wanted and I got fat. It’s em­bar­rass­ing to write that, but I may as well, since ev­ery­body who has seen me knows it any­way. At my fat­test I was 108kg, maybe a lit­tle more. And I am only 180cm tall, maybe a lit­tle less.

I knew it was hap­pen­ing, but other things were hap­pen­ing, too, and they al­ways seemed more im­por­tant. I’ve got a lot of work on; I will do some­thing about my weight af­ter that. I am go­ing on hol­i­day; I’ve spent a for­tune on it; I don’t want to spoil it by cut­ting back on food. I am go­ing to a din­ner to give a speech; it’s hu­mil­i­at­ing to tell the host I am watch­ing the calo­ries.

So on I went, un­til one day some­one took a pic­ture. It was me, on hol­i­day, pho­tographed side on, play­ing ten­nis with my seven-year-old. Wear­ing a polo shirt and a pair of shorts.

I looked – I was – un­be­liev­ably fat. You know those peo­ple who can’t quite fit in one seat on a train? I looked like one of those or, per­haps be­ing slightly less hys­ter­i­cal, I looked like I was about to be­come one of those. Any mo­ment.

Be­cause my son looked cute in the photo, ev­ery­one kept look­ing at it. And each time they did, I flushed with shame. I knew I was over­weight. But not as bad as that. I re­alised then that some­thing would have to be done. That I couldn’t put things off any longer.

Now, I have never re­garded my weight as be­ing a moral is­sue. Or any­one else’s busi­ness. Noth­ing is ruder or smug­ger, in my view, than say­ing to some­one in a pointed way, ‘Good­ness, you are look­ing pros­per­ous.’ A sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of peo­ple take it into their heads to do this. They can’t pos­si­bly ap­pre­ci­ate how un­wel­come it is.

Yet at the same time, peo­ple’s opin­ions were def­i­nitely mixed up with my feel­ings.

I didn’t like be­ing judged as a ‘fat per­son’, how­ever much I might re­gard that judg­ment as be­ing in­tru­sive and rather pa­thetic. A bit of me was in­fu­ri­ated by peo­ple think­ing their waist­lines made them morally su­pe­rior, while a bit of me shared the view that it did. I re­alise this is a mud­dled ex­pla­na­tion, but it’s the best you are go­ing to get.

It pro­vided me – or at least I think it did – with a small insight into how women feel, while recog­nis­ing that for women the ex­pe­ri­ence is more in­tense.

It’s not true that peo­ple only no­tice women’s ap­pear­ance and weight. [Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tive Party politi­cian] Ge­orge Os­borne is a good friend of mine, and peo­ple more of­ten ask me about his 5:2 diet – which in­volves eat­ing nor­mally for five days out of a seven-day pe­riod and vastly re­strict­ing the amount of food eaten on the other two days – and his hair­cut than they do about his eco­nomic pol­icy. Se­ri­ously.

Yet it is un­doubt­edly worse for women. The com­ments about them are made more openly and more of­ten.

The flip side of this is that, as a man, you feel ridicu­lous talk­ing to oth­ers about your weight, or ad­mit­ting that you are wor­ried about it. So you feel un­com­fort­able about it, phys­i­cally and men­tally, but you keep it in.

Th­ese feel­ings were par­tic­u­larly strong when buy­ing clothes. When you have a waist that is big­ger than 44 inches, it be­comes very hard to find any­thing to buy. And ask­ing for a big­ger size is ag­o­nis­ing. Some time ago I had a suit made, which cir­cum­vented the prob­lem. But an in­for­mal jacket and trousers? I had to go to the out­size cloth­iers, High and Mighty. I’m not high. And mighty? I think we all know what that re­ally means. I can’t be­lieve I am telling you this but, oh well, here goes. Be­fore I left the shop, I turned the plas­tic bag in­side out so that it didn’t read High and Mighty as I walked down Lon­don’s Ox­ford Street.

And then there was the health is­sue. My fa­ther was di­a­betic. Be­ing 108kg was ba­si­cally killing me. So what

I didn’t like be­ing JUDGED as a ‘FAT PER­SON’. It gave me an insight into how WOMEN feel. It is un­doubt­edly WORSE for them. The COM­MENTS about them are made more OPENLY and more OF­TEN

should I do? Al­most ev­ery day there is a new diet in the pa­per. You can eat as much pro­tein as you like, but don’t eat any fat or car­bo­hy­drates. You can eat as much car­bo­hy­drate as you like, but don’t eat any fat or pro­tein. You can eat all th­ese things with­out limit, but not on the same day. I used to joke that I was on all th­ese di­ets at the same time.

Re­ally, my start­ing point was quite dif­fer­ent. The idea that I can eat as much of any­thing as I like is a fraud. What had made me fat was eat­ing as much as I liked, and that very thing was what I had to stop.

I wasn’t fat as a child. Not at all, re­ally. So while I still lived and ate at home, I wasn’t over­weight.

Then I got my first job as a jour­nal­ist, work­ing in a mag­a­zine com­pany in Soho, and I moved out of home and I started eat­ing. And eat­ing. And eat­ing.

I worked on the edge of Chi­na­town, in cen­tral Lon­don, and I can tell you ex­actly where I first be­came fat. It was in the Wong Kei restau­rant in War­dour Street. I ate there al­most ev­ery day. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I ate there more than once a day. The fact that I had eaten a large lunch never stopped me from hav­ing a large din­ner.

There is prob­a­bly a ge­netic el­e­ment to my eat­ing, but even so it is some­thing I could have con­trolled. The size of my ap­petite, big­ger than most peo­ple’s by far, makes con­trol more dif­fi­cult. But it doesn’t make it im­pos­si­ble by any means.

I would try from time to time, but not very hard. Some­times hard enough to lose a few pounds be­fore gain­ing it again. More of­ten, hard enough to re­main sta­ble for a while. But never hard enough to shift a lot of weight and keep it off. And my weight drifted up and up un­til I found my­self play­ing ten­nis while look­ing like [English co­me­dian] Bernard Man­ning. So my diet plan was un­so­phis­ti­cated. I would just stop overeat­ing. And that, in one tiny sen­tence, is it.

Here’s what I did. I don’t drink any­thing ex­cept Diet Coke, which is calo­rie-free. And, oddly enough, I have never re­ally had much of a thing for desserts either, which also helps. At home as I grew up, we hardly ate dessert, and I am per­fectly happy with­out it. Nor am I a big one for sweets. I try to walk 10,000 paces a day, but I don’t do much ex­er­cise – and I don’t think that is about to change. I find it too bor­ing. All of which tells you that I man­aged to be­come more than a hun­dred ki­los just by eat­ing very large main cour­ses. And I have shed a large amount of it just by stop­ping do­ing that.

I find a lot of diet ad­vice too fussy – have only this, weigh that, don’t touch the other. So I just use com­mon sense. I have a rough idea of what is fat­ten­ing and what isn’t – who doesn’t? – and I don’t eat those things, in gen­eral.

I start the day with a plain sand­wich – per­haps with chicken in, bought from the place across the road from the of­fice – or a scram­bled egg, if I have more time. And at lunch, I might have a plate of smoked salmon and a bit of salad with a ba­nana.

My aim is, very broadly, to keep be­low 1,300 calo­ries a day. That isn’t much at all, so I of­ten find that by the time sup­per comes, I can’t re­ally eat any­thing. If I can eat at all, I still try to keep it very light.

And I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I am em­bar­rassed by how ba­nal this ad­vice is. I can say that it does work, as you might imag­ine that it would. I am on week 37 of this regime and I am now 93kg. I in­tend to keep go­ing un­til I am about 80kg.

There is quite a way to go, but I feel much bet­ter and look much bet­ter.

Per­haps slightly less ba­nal is that my diet isn’t based on any eat­ing tricks. It is based – as I think, in the end, all suc­cess­ful di­ets must be – on will power.

To start with, I had to de­cide that dieting was more im­por­tant than any­thing else. That noth­ing – im­por­tant meet­ings, a hol­i­day, a fam­ily event – was an ex­cuse to for­get about the whole thing and eat. My wife was crit­i­cal in mak­ing me un­der­stand the cen­tral­ity of this, and it helps a huge amount to have that sort of sup­port.

Iweigh my­self at least once a day; some­times once in the morn­ing and again at night. I re­alise this isn’t ac­cu­rate, be­cause it fluc­tu­ates ran­domly, but it forces me to re­mem­ber my diet and not run away from my weight, to be sure I am not fool­ing my­self about progress.

You have to tell oth­ers you are dieting. If you don’t, you end up overeat­ing just to avoid your fel­low din­ers ques­tion­ing you. I think this ad­mis­sion is quite hard for men, be­cause we are em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that we strug­gle with our weight. The whole thing makes me feel deeply silly, but I do it any­way.

In­stead of al­low­ing other peo­ple – un­be­known to them – to em­bar­rass me into break­ing my diet, I use them – again with­out their knowl­edge – to help me keep on track. By telling peo­ple that you are on a diet, you are com­mit­ting your­self to it pub­licly. That helps in­crease your re­solve. This com­mit­ment, and the de­sire not to break it, is what makes you re­turn to your diet at din­ner, when you broke it at lunch.

In fact, this ar­ti­cle isn’t about my diet at all. It is my diet. That’s why I put the goal weight in. Once this ar­ti­cle ap­pears I will have no choice but to keep go­ing and then to stay thin­ner once I ar­rive at my des­ti­na­tion.

You, I’m afraid, have been used.

TELL OTH­ERS you are dieting, or you’ll end up overeat­ing just to AVOID your fel­low din­ers ques­tion­ing you. I think this is DIF­FI­CULT for MEN – we are EM­BAR­RASSED to ad­mit that we strug­gle with our weight

I ate what­ever I wanted and I got fat. It’s em­bar­rass­ing to ad­mit that. But I al­ways had an ex­cuse – work, a hol­i­day, of­fend­ing the host…

I de­cided that noth­ing – from im­por­tant meet­ings to fam­ily events – was more im­por­tant than dieting. And it worked

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