OPINION: The nosiness of the average Fairfax reader knows no bounds.
Every week, without fail, emails trickle in from far-flung citizens desperate to find out more about the snugness of my jeans, the size of my thighs, and whether my chin is singular or plural. There's no end of invasive questions, brought on in part by my own earlier admissions regarding a troubled relationship with food.
Without so much as a "Dear sir", these correspondents cut to the chase with inquiries of an alarmingly personal nature. Do I still look like the grinning lard-arse in the picture alongside this column? Sort of, yes, if deflated by a slow puncture. Do I still go for long walks around the Nelson hills after a hard day's writing, hauling my hefty frame up steep inclines, burning calories as I clear my mind?
Well, yes, actually, I do. After interviewing BBC science expert Dr Michael Mosley for a story, am I still adhering to his dietary suggestions and fasting two days per week? As a matter of fact, I am, and as a result, I'm 15 kilos lighter than I was this time last year.
It's an odd thing, to be a formerly fat person who's now merely chubby. I meet people in the street and their eyes grow wide. My god! You're wasting away, they say. A shadow of your former self. You must've had to throw out all your old clothes. What's happened to you, man? Are you ill? Have you developed a drug habit?
Some of these people are strangers who've only ever seen my photograph in this newspaper, so having them comment upon my size and shape feels oddly intimate. I'm reminded of the bizarre phenomenon where passing acquaintances feel they have license to lay their hands upon the bellies of pregnant women, as if this miraculous transformation in a woman's personal physical state somehow makes them public property.
But, overall, in my case at least, the attention is not unwelcome, given that people are telling me I look better than I have in years. It could all go to a man's head, but nothing brings you down to earth so suddenly as the blunt pronouncements of a health professional.
Two weeks ago, I went to a doctor who was filling in for my usual GP. He advised me not to get too excited. Yes, I had shed 15 kilos, but even at 85 kilos I was still overweight for a shortarse. "What do you mean? I'm five foot nine," I said. He frowned, and insisted that I was only 167 cm, or five foot seven. Before I could protest he reached for his calculator and rattled through a few computations. Evidently, the ideal weight for a man of my stature is 75 kilos, so there's still another 10 kilos to lose before my GP will be happy.
My feeling is that it's just not gonna happen. A person's weight is, after all, a complex accommodation between discipline and desire, a grisly grudge match between doing the right thing and doing a more enjoyable thing. Being slender is all very well, but you also need to be happy, and a certain amount of unwise eating and drinking is part and parcel of being a modern social animal, especially an animal whose psyche was formed during prehistoric times of intermittent feast and famine.
It is clear, however, that I am no longer the grinning porker you see in this column photo. That dumpy doppelganger is now just an ancient memory, a chubby chimera, a "Before" photo in a diet ad. Since that photograph was taken, its lardy subject has been slowly dissolving from the inside out, so you can now discern the geometry of his bones. He has shrunk alarmingly, as if tossed carelessly into a hot wash. He has been miniaturised by his own metabolism, his innards an impressively efficient fat-burning furnace powered by the slow smouldering of stored calories.
This column photo constitutes false advertising, in that the goods are not as described. So, it's time to put things right. Earlier this week, I headed into the photo studio at the Nelson Mail to have new photos taken. I showered and shaved, posed and preened. I said "Cheese", even though none was forthcoming.
I stood in faux-casual positions I'd never ordinarily adopt, and let loose random chuckles before the lens as if someone had just told me a particularly good joke. I have no idea how said photos turned out, and will find out at the same time you do, when I look at the paper or online next Sunday.
- Sunday Star Times