07 FEBRUARY 2019
HOW NOT TO GO UP A SIZE EVERY YEAR
January diets may be over at last, but strict eater Christa D’Souza has no plans to let herself go on the food front any time soon.
What did you do this weekend? Did you “celebrate” the end of January with a nice bottle of wine and pudding? Or did you, having ditched the new year’s resolutions weeks ago, get stuck in much in the same way you did before Christmas? If you belong to the latter group, I don’t blame you.
February is such a very cruel, bleak month, what else is there to do but overeat and watch Netflix? On the other hand, perhaps because it is such a cruel and bleak month, it is precisely the time to take oneself in hand. That is my philosophy, anyway, and the reason why I have booked myself into the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinic, the famous therapeutic fasting and integrative medicine clinic on the shores of Lake Constance in Switzerland.
If you are a bit of a detox junkie and have done the rounds of fancy-schmancy clinics with Toblerone views, you will surely have heard of it. Founded on the principles of Otto Buchinger, a First World War naval doctor who cured his own debilitating rheumatoid arthritis by not ingesting anything other than water for three weeks, it has become the place for greedy, high-net-worth individuals to stop eating so much for a bit.
Though most clients go for the signature Buchinger Wilhelmi therapeutic fast – no more than 250 calories-worth of vegetable broth and juice for a minimum of 10 days (from £2,300) – you don’t have to be on it to lose weight.
When I went there last year, I lost a whopping 5.5lb (2.5kg) on a perfectly manageable 800 calories a day for five days. And on one of those days there was even vegan crumble for pudding. Still, 800 calories is not very much. Especially when you are eating supper at 6pm and can’t fall asleep until well after midnight. Uggh. I cannot say I am looking forward to this year’s visit. And it is not as though I’m fat. But I am greedy and we do always have a lot of food in the house, there being three adult males who live in it. If I’m going to break the habits of the past two months, it has got to be done.
Many people would call me fanatical – “Isn’t that the one silver lining of getting old,” the Greek chorus always cries, “eating what you bloody want and not caring if you’ve gone up a size or three?” But, in light of a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health last month, I feel my attitude is slightly vindicated.
Or rather, if it is ‘natural’ to gain a pound a year then, frankly, I would rather be fake.
Based on a group of 7,807 participants from Holland between the ages of 68 and 70 in 1986, it found that women whose weight had significantly increased over time were 32 per cent less likely to make it to 90 than those who had more or less stayed the same weight as in their twenties. (No such link was found for men.)
Indeed, as a study conducted by Buchinger Wilhelmi in association with Charite University in Berlin suggests, therapeutic fasting is one of the safest, best-tolerated approaches to prevent age-related illnesses and treat chronic metabolic disorders, including weight issues such as clinical obesity. Published last month in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, the study provides evidence that fasting not only leads to significant weight loss but lowers cholesterol and blood lipid levels. In 84 per cent of the 1,422 cases under observation, conditions such as arthritis, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver and high blood pressure were significantly improved after a four- to 21-day fast.
So yah boo sucks to all you haters out there who think I’m obsessional: I’m going to outlive the lot of you. Except that, in my case, I’m not striving to be the same weight that I was when I was 20 (a miserable junior at college in America, at least a couple of stone heavier than I am today). I am striving to be the same weight I was when I was 11.
Yes, at 58 and a half I am the same weight I was 47 years ago. I know this to be true because I remember very vividly getting on a pair of scales at my friend Helen’s house on my first exeat from boarding school in 1971. I was the same weight as my mother, which seemed somehow shameful at the time, but given that I had in fact fully developed, and my mother had such a cracking figure when she was younger, I’ve used it as a benchmark ever since.
Is 8 stone-something my “natural” weight? Was it my mother’s “natural” weight? Almost certainly not. She comes from heavy northern European stock and, in her twenties and thirties, was a classic smokerexic: that is, she used cigarettes to keep her weight down. But then, what does “natural” even mean? If it is natural, as research suggests, for adults to gain a pound every year then, frankly, I would rather be fake. Not so much because I want to live into my nineties (although that would be nice) but because being a size 8-10 is central to my emotional wellbeing.
I’m not sure if you are allowed to say this in print, but perhaps it’s OK if it is about myself: I look at letting oneself go on the food front a bit like I look at sleeping until midday or not bothering to take my make-up off at night. A moral failing, if you will. Eating abstemiously when I’m a naturally greedy person, being a size 10 when I’m probably a “natural” size 12, is a sort of metaphor for how I want to lead my life.
Yet another study by Cambridge University on the subject came out last month – this one focusing on thin, healthy adults and the impact of genes on body size. It turns out that there really is a gene that predisposes you to thin or fat, so we shouldn’t necessarily make judgments on people who are either thin or fat, because it could be they cannot help it. But this made me think, if God meant me to be chunky, aren’t I entitled to feel a tiny bit morally superior if I manage to go against my genes?
What’s wrong with taking the path of most resistance? What’s wrong with not giving into one’s inner labrador? What’s wrong with caring about how one’s clothes fit?
Yes, it’s a constant low-level struggle not having that third piece of toast at breakfast, not licking my plate when I think no one is looking, religiously not eating between meals, even if dinner isn’t until 10.30pm because we went to the theatre. “Joyless” is how my partner often likes to describes it. And he’s right, sometimes there is a degree of white‑knuckling it there. On the other hand, I am much, much thinner and fitter than he is and, as I keep on telling him, there is a lot to be said for the tyranny of freedom.
In just over a week’s time, then, I go back to Buchinger Wilhelmi. The point is to reset my internal computer, to keep me on the straight and narrow for the rest of the year. I suspect there are not going to be publishers smashing my door down for the diet book, but as I approach my 60th year, in better health than I’ve ever been in my life, doing what I do seems to be working just fine.