Life & Culture

I’ve lost an inch, but gained some more

Claire Calman is getting smaller - but also bigger


Homemade sweet lemon cake with almonds and oat flour on glass plate, painted turquoise table, copy space

On the whole, I like to think of myself as a relatively healthy person. Sure, I’ve had a kidney removed (tumour) and partial knee-replacements on both legs (wear and tear) so am grateful to be signed up for a religion that involves no kneeling, plus I have no energy because of lifelong insomnia — but aside from that, I feel OK. I have put on a bit of weight over the successive lockdowns. Well, quite a bit. But, in my defence, I find baking incredibly soothing when I am stressed… and it’s significantly cheaper than psychotherapy.

I am lucky enough to have private health cover under my husband’s work policy, and now they have offered me a free health-assessment. I know I am overweight, so I’m sure there will be some bad news, but it’s clearly a wise thing to do. So, Monday morning, having fasted since the night before (for glucose and cholesterol blood test), I turn up at the clinic not far from London’s prestigious Harley Street.

I remove my shoes so the physiologist can check my height and weight. I fear I must be at my worst weight, but I’m fairly confident about my height. I’m five foot four inches. I know this because, even though I’ve been hoping for a late growth spurt, I have been waiting for it for about 40 years and, realistically, I’m beginning to think I might be stuck at this height.

“Exactly 160 centimetres,” she says. “That’s five foot three inches.”

“But I’m five-four!” I splutter.

“No,” she says pleasantly, clearly used to this sort of pointless protest. “It’s five foot three.”

Well, obviously, I don’t want to be rude but she’s just wrong — she’s got muddled over the conversion or something.

Then she checks my weight. I’m dressed but it’s not as if I’m wearing a stab-proof vest from shul security duty. I’m not at my worst weight. I’m two whole kilos worse than my worst weight (yes, I am mixing metric and imperial — I was schooled during the change-over, so I am equally uncomfortable with both systems).

The tests continue: blood pressure (fine), BMI (not fine), body fat percentage (really not fine) and so on.

The next day, back at home, I get my report and I check the height figure. It still says 1.6 metres and I check the conversion. It’s five foot 2.99212125984 inches, which even with the best will in the world, no-one could argue is closer to five foot four inches than five three.

There was a lot to take in during the consultation, and some positives: she is pleased with my exercise regime — gym once a week (with trainer to make sure I don’t run away), Pilates twice a week, dance class once a week — but thinks I need another cardio session to improve my cardio-vascular fitness so should do a second stint at the gym. I nod, even though I hate pretty much every moment of being at the gym so even while nodding, I’m trying to think of a good excuse not to do it.

I can’t even tell you my body fat percentage. It’s not that I don’t know it because it’s right here in the detailed report. It’s just that I feel deeply ashamed of the number. All I can say is that I have a higher percentage of body fat than pork belly does (I’m not averse to a crispy bacon sandwich while out and about away from the treyf-free zone, but even I have always shunned pork belly because it looks so disgusting.) But I am worse than that. More fatty than a gross slab of pork belly, wobbling on the plate. I would have a lower fat component if I were entirely composed of sponge cake (which I had assumed I pretty much was).

I have always considered myself as a work in progress in so many ways, but now I realise I’m a work in lack of progress, which is sobering.

When we talk about nutrition, I steel myself and confess that I am addicted to sugar. Do alcoholics at their first AA meeting feel this level of shame? Even though I am a grown-up, I am admitting that I don’t have full control over what I put in my body.

Earlier this year, I did a month without alcohol and it honestly wasn’t that hard (and I have almost no will-power). I do drink: a small glass or two of prosecco about three times a week, but it is extremely rare for me to get drunk (and therefore massively amusing to husband and son when it happens — they’re still getting mileage out of the caipirinha karaoke incident eight years on.)

But when I tried to go without chocolate for one week, I made it as far as Wednesday evening, so I lasted just two and a half days before I cracked.

I feel ashamed, not just that I have put on weight because I know I am far from being alone in letting lockdown find its way right to my weakness, but that I am actually quite knowledgeable about food and nutrition so I can’t plead ignorance. It feels like not just a failure of willpower but a moral failing too.

It’s time to shape up…


Claire’s latest novel, A Second-Hand Husband, is published by Boldwood Books

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