Health · Notes from West London

“Never heavier”; reflections on body weight

This is a mostly biographical piece about fluctuations in body weight. It was prompted by something the actor-comedian Greg Davies said when he was a guest on the Chris Evans breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 one Friday last July.

As I noted in this piece, those Friday morning Chris Evans shows have an entirely different feel to those earlier in the week. The last hour is taken up with live performances and interviews with guests promoting movies, books and TV shows. It’s more like a chat show than a regular breakfast show. Greg Davies appeared twice last year, promoting an upcoming live tour. On both occasions he mentioned his weight. As you may know from shows like “The Inbetweeners” and “Man Down”, he is quite a big man, around 6’7” tall (over 2 metres) and not skinny. When he was interviewed in July Evans told him how well he was looking. Davies replied with references to his weight (22 stone I think he said) and with the words “Never heavier”. During the autumn Davies was a guest again, and the live music was provided by Irish family group The Corrs. Once more he referred to his weight, suggesting that he weighed more than all four members of the band put together.

The expression “Never heavier” struck a chord with me in July. Back then I too was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, though nowhere near 22 stone, which equates to 308lb, or 140kg. (From this point all references to weight will be given in stones, lb and kg.) In August my son and I spent time on holiday in Spain with my brother (who has lived there for many years). On our arrival my brother told me how well I was looking. He wasn’t being euphemistic. If he thought I was carrying too much weight he would have said so. I repeated Davies’s words (“Never heavier”) and used another standard response to compliments about my appearance: “I’ll have some of what you’re drinking”.

Until my early 30s I was, in most people’s eyes, skinny. Some people thought I was too skinny. At least one work colleague assumed I was a junkie; why else would anyone be so thin? When visiting Spain in my 20s it felt like my brother’s in-laws were trying to fatten me up. No matter how often, or how much, I ate, my weight never went above 10 stone (140lb, 63.6kg). Some years it was closer to 9 stone (126lb, 57kg), very light for someone of my height (6 feet, or 1.83m). My brother’s mother-in-law did at one point measure my wrist with her thumb and forefinger, disappointment on her face, bringing to mind the witch in “Hansel and Gretel”. During the winter I felt the cold.

Then, in my early 30s, something changed. I put on weight, my face changed shape, and within 18 months I had gone from under 10 stone to around 13 stone 10lb (192lb, 87kg), an increase of over a third. There were no major changes in my diet or exercise regime. It just happened. (This was before I started drinking beer again.) I didn’t chart the progress of my weight gain because we didn’t have a set of scales at home. When I bought a new set I was at my new, much heavier weight, and on arriving in Spain that summer was greeted by my brother’s mother-in-law with a big smile and the words, “Mas fuerte, mas gordo, mucho mejor!” This translates as “Stronger, fatter, much better!”  That winter I no longer felt the cold.

That was 20 years ago, and for most of the intervening time I have been somewhere around 13 stone 7lb (185lb, 84kg). The summer my wife and I got married I dropped down to 12 stone 4lb (172lb, 78kg), mainly by eating salad and fish for dinner, but within a year an extra stone (14lb, 6.4kg) had returned. The first time I gave up wheat (for Lent) I lost those extra pounds but within a year they came back again. The next time I gave up eating wheat for Lent I lost maybe half a stone (7lb, 3.2kg); diminishing returns.

My most conscientious attempt to lose weight came in 2012, with big results. By swimming most days and eating less I dropped down to 11 stone 7lb (161lb, 73kg). My face got thin again. My cheekbones returned. I could no longer wear my wedding ring on my left hand because it kept slipping off. My own mother-in-law told me I was too thin. I stayed below 12 stone (168lb, 76.3kg) for several months. During the winter I felt the cold again. And in the last four years the weight has returned. In July 2017 our new scales showed me at a new high of 13 stone 12lb (194lb, 88kg). One way of looking at this is to see at as more or less the same weight as 20 years ago, but another way is to see it as 20% more than 5 years ago.

All of this detail has been included here to record the figures somewhere, definitively. This Blog has become, among other things, my exobrain, an easily-accessible place to put things that have been recorded somewhere else, or have been the subject of conversations with other people. In 2012 and 2013 I had many conversations about my weight, diet and fitness with friends and family.

One of the more memorable, though brief, conversations was with someone we have become friends with since we had children. It was in a playground. I was heading back from the school-run, she was pushing her pre-nursery age son on a swing and we chatted for a few minutes. She noticed the change in my face and seemed interested in the figures, how much weight I had lost, how skinny I used to be, and before launching into any detailed answers I said, light-heartedly: “I can give you 20 minutes on this if you like.” I asked if she wanted the figures in stones, pounds or kilos and she said she was fine with all three. She had learnt all about them (and ounces too) “when I was anorexic,” she said. This was news to me, and only revealed as a passing comment. I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t really going to give her 20 minutes’ worth of information but after that twist I reduced it to about 10 seconds. We couldn’t speak in any detail about her past experiences with anorexia then (we were in a playground after all) and haven’t done so since.

I have only known one other person who had anorexia, and never spoke to her about it either. We met at university and stayed in touch for a few years afterwards. She was living a few miles away here in London. One evening, at a party at her place, I was talking to one of the other guests. She asked how I had met our host. I told her, and asked her how they had met. “We were in the same anorexic clinic,” she said, matter-of-factly, before university. I had no response, and after a pause asked something unrelated, like what she did for a living. I have still never had a conversation with anyone about their experiences with anorexia, and maybe never will. In the meantime I am happy to discuss my own less dramatic fluctuations in weight with just about anyone. Today, as in 1997, the scales read 13 stone 10lb (192lb, 87kg).




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