Anne Robin­son

Eat­ing next to noth­ing… but ready to run, swim and go to the gym

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

‘Don’t ask me how I could do more on an empty stom­ach than af­ter a full break­fast’

I’ve spent most of my life try­ing not to be fat. I went to my first health farm aged 16. My mother, very much of the Har­vey Ni­chols ten­dency, thought it an ex­cel­lent way for me to re­cover from the trauma of tak­ing my O-lev­els.

Champ­neys at Tring is now a ritzy re­treat – while in the early 1960s it was mostly a pop­u­lar choice for the sick and dy­ing. Pa­tients were put on a three-week fast of lemon and hot wa­ter, plus mas­sage, os­teopa­thy and hate­ful colonic ir­ri­ga­tion to rid them of toxic waste.

This se­vere regime went back to the 1900s and the founder of Champ­neys, Stan­ley Lief. As an im­pov­er­ished, job­less young man in Rus­sia, he’d been di­ag­nosed with a chronic heart con­di­tion and promised a short life ex­pectancy. He cured him­self with a pro­gramme of fast­ing and ex­er­cise.

The prob­lem for me was I didn’t have a se­vere heart con­di­tion or a love of hang­ing out with old sick peo­ple. By day three, I re­alised that sit­ting in my bleak board­ing school was prefer­able to be­ing starv­ing hun­gry. Never again, I re­solved, would I sub­ject my­self to food de­pri­va­tion.

Since then, I’ve tested the tem­per­a­ture at an em­bar­rass­ing num­ber of well­ness re­treats. I’ve done just about ev­ery diet avail­able: low fat; high fat; cab­bage only; fruit one day, fish and greens the next. They’ve all failed.

Ap­par­ently, Weight Watch­ers, which I’ve also tried, has now turned cool and signed up trendy, celebrity am­bas­sadors, ban­ished the word di­et­ing and moved to a holis­tic ap­proach. How­ever, Oprah, a zil­lion­aire, is an­other am­bas­sador and, judg­ing from her shape at the Meghan/harry wed­ding, she’s been miss­ing her meet­ings.

I’ve no idea why some peo­ple stay trim, but the ma­jor­ity of us don’t. I men­tion Oprah’s wealth and my strug­gle, be­cause Ge­orge Mon­biot, the self- righ­teous, ve­gan Guardian colum­nist sug­gests that ‘obe­so­pho­bia is of­ten a fatly dis­guised form of snob­bery’ and it’s the gov­ern­ment that needs to show re­straint. He be­lieves job­less, poor peo­ple in Bri­tain strug­gle with obe­sity more than bright, mid­dle-class ones. This surely, too, smacks of snob­bery.

Any­way, it was my best friend Pam who came up with the so­lu­tion. From our teenage years, we’ve been long­ing to lose a stone by six o’clock the same day. Pam dis­cov­ered and urged me to try a place in Ger­many.

There was noth­ing about the name – Buchinger Wil­helmi – or the des­ti­na­tion – Über­lin­gen – that sug­gested it was flashy or plush; a clinic, def­i­nitely not a spa. There are doc­tors in white coats on health watch. Ef­fi­cient Ger­man nurses weigh you each morn­ing. The menu is a cup of herb tea and a spoon­ful of honey in the morn­ing. Some thin veg­etable broth at mid­day; the same in the early evening. On of­fer are mas­sage, os­teopa­thy, reiki, physio and dozens more treat­ments.

Yep, you’re right. Ex­actly the same zeal­ous fast­ing method I’d en­dured in my youth. But I gave it a go.

It as­ton­ished me that there was a daily two-hour hike, al­beit vol­un­tary, leav­ing at six o’clock in the morn­ing. Why would any­one want to trudge up­hill through a for­est on an empty stom­ach when they could stay in bed feel­ing sorry for them­selves?

Each day started with an ap­point­ment with the nurse, who weighs you and takes your blood pres­sure. Ev­ery other day an en­ema; the same, hate­ful colonic ir­ri­ga­tion of wa­ter up your back­side for ten min­utes to cleanse the colon.

The first time I went five years ago, I did noth­ing but sleep for the first few days and re­garded the idea of any ex­er­cise as un­think­able.

But baf­flingly, on day three, the hunger pains had gone. In­stead, I set my alarm clock and joined the hik­ers. I know I am sound­ing like a born-again but, within a few days, I had enough puff to man­age not only a hike but 20 or 30 lengths in the out­side heated pool, a run late af­ter­noon or a ses­sion with a trainer in the gym.

Don’t ask me to ex­plain how I could do more on an empty stom­ach than I’ve ever been able to do at home af­ter a full break­fast. Or if it’s a co­in­ci­dence that, in the early 1900s, one Dr Otto Buchinger, a Ger­man naval of­fi­cer, se­ri­ously ill with rheumatic pain, cured him­self in much the same way as the founder of Champ­neys. Af­ter two weeks, I was down nearly ten pounds.

I now go back for a fort­night each year. My choice of hol­i­day. It isn’t cheap but about what it would cost me to sun­bathe in Florida. My back and knee joints stop aching, any in­fec­tion I might have dis­ap­pears and, most im­por­tantly, my spir­its rise. I now need to knock off only a few pounds.

Of­fi­cial re­search on the ben­e­fits of fast­ing sug­gests a high chance of re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble from thy­roid con­di­tions, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, de­pres­sion, pso­ri­a­sis, type 2 di­a­betes and much more.

I’m not delu­sional about be­com­ing over­weight. It’s be­cause by na­ture I’m greedy. I don’t blame the gov­ern­ment. Or think that self-re­straint is bet­ter prac­tised by rich peo­ple. I’m an ad­dict – be it al­co­hol or sugar. I find it eas­ier to ab­stain than at­tempt mod­er­a­tion.

For­get the lat­est mir­a­cle fat-burn­ing pills from Amer­ica. Or the 5:2. I’m now a hot gospeller for the 14 – zero.

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