Monday, 26 January 2009

Pondering weighty matters

There is/was a programme on Channel 4 that I recently saw trailers for that features a group of slim people trying to gain weight. From what I could gather it was based on a theory that some people are just naturally thin or fat and with all the dieting in the world they'll never really alter what they are. I haven't bothered watching as it looked like a trashy tabloid style 'edutainment' offering where 5 minutes of interesting subject matter is stretched out to make a series (so I may have completely misunderstood the trailers), but it got me thinking.

Today was a rest day and I was working from home. Instead of taking 30 minutes off for a sandwich I went for a walk instead and wondered, if we are naturally predisposed to be either fat or thin which am I?

First up, I'm not sure I buy into the polarised view, though like most people I do know, or have known, people who seem able to eat anything and stay stick thin.

At university, Mick, one of the lads I shared a house with had an appalling diet. He'd have a few slices of white toast for breakfast, something with chips from a cafe at dinner, a typical tea of a mountain of mash with a tin of beans and a large 'family' Fray Bentos pie and in between meals he'd eat biscuits, King Size Mars Bars, even the odd Pot Noodle. The only vegetables to enter his body were the green bits in the Pot Noodles. Mick played no sport and took no formal exercise. By rights he should have been the size of an American and suffer from scurvy but whilst he was slightly paler than a corpse he was also very, very thin.

For me its never been quite that simple or easy.

As a child I was active even through to 18 - sports and playing out most days, often walking to school 4 miles each way. I didn't eat perfectly but I was neither big nor small - just average.

University saw me drinking heavily but I also stayed pretty active and once I'd left I still walked alot, went walking on the Dales, did manual work, cycled to/from work, even went on walking holidays and so on. I ate alot but stayed slim.

Once I'd passed my driving test and then got an office based job with company car I began to steadily accrue blubber. About the same time our typical weekend routine ceased to be hill walking and instead became the more sedentary watching rugby league home and away.

As I approached 28 years I found I'd reached 14 stone and on a whim (because one of the girls I worked with was a member) I joined Weight Watchers. Three months later I was below 12 stones. I stayed between 12 and 13 for the next 4 years or so, initially through watching diet and staying at the lower end and later I joined a gym and put on some weight in the form of muscle.

When I changed jobs and moved house (away from the gym) my weight went up again. I was travelling most days from West Yorkshire to Northampton and back and lived off chocolate bars, crisps, buffets at meetings and fast food at the services. After 18 months of that I got a job near home but one where I parked outside the door and had access to a staff restaurant, vending machines and shop. By the time I was 36 my weight had peaked at 15st 11lbs.

Redundancy gave me the free time to join a gym again and I shed a couple of stones over 4 months or so.

The following year I discovered running and abandoned the gym almost immediately. Initially I was only running twice a week and then increased to 3 times, making the amount of exercise less than when I was using the gym. The difference was that running and races gave a new focus and weight became important for more than cosmetic reasons. After a few months I'd gone down to 12st 7lb, and had only added a few (Christmas/winter) pounds to that prior to marathon training starting at the beginning of 2007.

Since then, as the posts below detail, my weight has been consistently higher and generally follows my running - when I run regularly it goes down or holds, when I stop it goes up.

So where does that leave me? A natural bloater who only encounters fleeting successes despite a constant battle with weight? Or a svelte wannabe athlete often confounded by ill fortune and lard inducing work and lifestyle changes?

I guess the truth is it isn't as polar as the programme suggests and I probably sit somewhere in the middle but I suspect I lean naturally more towards the slim than tubby. Sure, I have a propensity to gain weight in a way Mick never did but each period of weight gain seems to link right back to one or more changes in my daily activity levels and the more active I am the more self regulating my food choices and weight become.

At the moment marathon training is giving me the tools and focus to bring my weight right back down to the level of 10 years ago and beyond and its partly for that reason I spent part of yesterday evening optimistically toying with the idea of an autumn marathon to follow Paris and Edinburgh.

Its a good idea and a nice thought but I'm not counding any chickens for some while yet. This evening my lower legs felt sore...

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