I want to tell you a story about being fat.
As a young girl I looked set to follow a fairly well-trammelled path, from chubby pubescent to husky young woman. Perhaps the critical moment in my weight gain was a job I had when I was 17, as a waitress in a high-end hotel restaurant. Happily, the hotel provided one meal per shift, plus all the pastries you could eat. Turns out, I could eat a lot of pastries.
Combined with a teenage enthusiasm for bottles of sticky wine and Vodka-Solo mixers my weight increased steadily until I weighed 87kg. That’s a BMI of 27. Not massive but definitely overweight.
My future, I thought, looked fairly clear – I’d be about a size 14 until I had kids, and then ramp it up from there. By the age of 40 I’d probably have high blood pressure, and by 50 I’d have trouble getting up the stairs. In short, I’d follow the same trajectory as most of my friends and the women in my family. That was OK by me.
And then one morning I was woken up by the television in the next room – one of my flatmates was watching a live rugby game. I made a cup of tea and flopped down beside him, just in time for the player profiles.
It was then I discovered that I weighed as much as the South African half-back. Only he could run to the shops.
I realised, right then and there, that I was at a cross-roads. I could get off my arse and lose some weight or keep going the way I was going, gradually expanding until I resembled the lounge suite I was sitting on.
I chose the latter. This isn’t Rocky.
Six months later however, I got glandular fever. My weight dropped dramatically – I lost around 10kg in a month. For some reason I decided to keep going with it.
I based my new weight-loss regime on the most authoritative guide I had access to – an article in Dolly that I’d read as a thirteen year old. It profiled a devastatingly gorgeous Russian model who cited her weight management as simply: ‘…running for an hour every day’.
Well, if it’s good enough for devastatingly gorgeous Russian models, it’s good enough for me.
I saved up for two weeks, bought some running shoes and started running.
I made it to the letterbox. But, each time I ran a little further until, three months later I was running for about 45 minutes every second or third day. The weight loss was dramatic – I lost about 25kg.
And here’s the crux – at some point I went from participating in that bizarre and temporary activity of ‘weight loss’ to actually being a runner.
Which brings me to my point: Weight-loss is something you do. Being a runner, on the other hand, is something you are. I suppose it started with a ‘lifestyle change’ but it’s been my regular, ordinary life ever since. I’ve now been running for 20 years. It’s ebbed and flowed, of course, with work commitments, travel and childbirth, but I’ve kept going.
And it’s not like it’s gotten easier either. I still have to drag myself out of bed in the morning into the pre-dawn chill, telling myself that I don’t have to feel energetic or bouncy, I just have to fucking do it. Stick that on a shoe, Nike. But this is the price I pay to have a body that feels strong, easy and well-put-together. Yes, I changed my diet too, but not obsessively. I still eat chips and drink beer. I still eat highly processed bread and biscuits, I just got a bit more realistic about the quantity of these things, and ate more fresh vegetables and lentils. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, there comes an age when you have to pretend you’ve never eaten chocolate in the bath.
For me, running is not part of the obsessive, hyperbolic food-body fads that characterise modern life. From the 5-2 diet to raw-foods, I’ve noticed that they’re all promulgated by young, almost exclusively white sylphs, documenting their ‘holistic lifestyle practices’ through an avalanche of borderline pornographic selfies.
All these diets start off as an exclusive regime of consumption by which middle class bores distinguish themselves. Eventually of course, they are appropriated by unscrupulous marketeers capitalising on the – now majority – of overweight people primed for their products. From pseudo-scientific newspaper article to the 50c book shelf at Vinnies, it’s an utterly predictable cycle.
But here’s the thing, all these diets focus on food rather than exercise, because at the end of the day, food is far easier to turn into a product than exercise. Paleo diet? Show me a middle-aged paleolithic woman who couldn’t out-sprint a pissed off wooly rhino and I’ll show you dinner.
Running, and its consequences – not being overweight – is not really about food, and it’s definitely not about ‘dieting’. It’s a completely native part of my life. At at some point this went from being a diet or a ‘lifestyle change’, (therefore prone to ‘failure‘), to just being me, – “Skinny-me”.
Eventually, as I moved cities and even countries, the people who knew fat-me drifted out of my life, and I became known simply as skinny-me.
More than that, I became known as ‘naturally’ skinny-me, because of course, it’s genetic.