Weighing up holiday calories

16:00, Nov 30 2013

It smelt vaguely, it occurred to me, of Number 171. Ginger fish with baby corn and bamboo shoots.

Last night's Thai takeout. Sweet and a little acrid - it pooled in the cradle of my high-performance bra.

Yes, that was it. Number 171. It beaded on my upper lip and I thought, too, of the spring rolls I'd eaten first.

Only three, but they were the fried kind. Brittle and greasy. Toothsome. My thigh muscles clenched. I was late. There was a queue outside the car park. I circled the block. Remembered that there'd been an ice cream too. A Big Hokey Memphis Meltdown. Silken and knobby. Chocolaty and caramely. A good time on a stick.

Some woman strolled across the road in front of me, glued to her phone. Outta my way! I spied a space. It was tight. I could do it. I flexed my biceps. Spun the wheel. This way and then that. I raced to the meter.

Hurry up! Raced back to the car. Ran up the steps. Two at a time. No, three at a time. You can do it! Swiped my card. Ginger fish poured off me. Gasping for breath, I burst into the room. Seven minutes past. I'd missed the warm-up.


Oh, don't worry. The irony doesn't escape me. The drive to the gym. The stress of finding a park as close as possible. The sense of ritual, too. Three sets of 30: tricep dips, push-ups, sit-ups.

The same series of stretches, over and over again. Penance and punishment; my relationship with food and exercise has always been such. Sometimes it feels like a roller coaster I can't get off. A relentless cycle of extremes. I'm bored by moderation though.

I like big appetites. Admire a robust stamina. Undoubtedly a regime of gentle strolls and quinoa salads would be more sensible; would afford me a measure of balance and a sense of wellbeing. But I'd rather eat voraciously. Make a pig of myself and pay later. Wolf hot chips and Peanut Slabs. Scarf Krispies and toasted cheese sandwiches. And then mitigate the damages with a spin class and a bag of mesclun.

Over the years I have run, rowed and cycled. Used personal trainers. Lifted weights and hung off machines. Tried both aqua-aerobics and aqua-jogging. Dripped sweat in Bikram yoga and fallen asleep in hatha yoga.

I have punched imaginary opponents and stepped endlessly on and off a small box. I am no natural athlete, mind. At school I was no one's first pick for their team. Too slow, too cool, too clumsy.

I have breasts, belly and bum. Soft bits. Moving bits. I am prone to injury. Knees, hips, back. At any given time I will be seeking treatment from the osteopath/physiotherapist/chiropractor.

Repairing my body just enough that I can ruin it all over again. There are those at the gym who you would describe as sleek, skin merely a laminate for their muscles. That's not me. That would require one sacrifice too many.

They, surely, are the ones who they keep the gym open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who they open up for on Christmas Day.

I have never been to the gym on Christmas Day. Not out of any sense of piety, but because between the croissants and the bubbly, the prawns and the new potatoes, there is simply not the time. Not when you factor in the scorched almonds and the fruit mince tarts, the trifle and the brandy snaps, too.

One Christmas, though, I've promised myself I will. Out of curiosity rather than virtue. Is it, I would like to know, a mixed bag? A motley crew of members there primarily to set themselves up for the feasting ahead?

The odd guy working out in a Santa suit? Or is it only the diehards. Those with physiques so precious they cannot fathom missing a day.

I've belonged to my gym for more than 20 years. Since women wore fluorescent G-string leotards and pristine white Reeboks to Jazzercise class. Long enough to recognise the regulars - know the types.

The whoopers and the ya-hooers. The bulky guys who spot each other, grunting louder with each thrust, all the more mesmerising for their unwitting show of homoeroticism.

Those who close their eyes and sing along. Those who are out of time and uncoordinated. The women who are fully made-up and coiffed at 6am. The ones who come to the gym to meet people. Someone special. Anyone at all.

On a recent holiday I ate pancakes and pizza for breakfast, drank shandies at lunch and daiquiris for afternoon tea, snacked on cheese and crackers and crisps, downed three courses for dinner and suppered on Oreo cookies and jelly babies.

I gained three kilos in a week. Come home time I was ready for a little deprivation. Craved it even. I was ready for spin class and bags of mesclun.

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