Here’s my latest article – read it here or over at Huff Po USA
I had no excuse for becoming fat at 25. Growing up in the countryside in South Devon, England, I was always fed delicious, local, unprocessed food, and was always active, spending most of my free time either surfing or riding horses. Yet for all my initial advantages, on the eve of my book launch in 2010, on the back of my ‘year of excess’ working as a bond broker in London, I’d reached 190lbs (86 kilos), making me ‘overweight’ according to U.K. governmental guidelines for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame.
There was of course nothing unusual about my size, given that 30 percent of the world is now obese or overweight, having jumped 47.1 percent amongst children from 1980 to 2013, and 27.5 percent amongst adults. Despite most of us now being painfully aware of the causes of obesity (poor diets and lack of exercise — certain medical conditions aside), we just keep getting fatter. In fact, it appears even some doctors have now given up fighting obesity altogether and are opting for a different approach: cardiologist Dr. Carl Lavie has recently published the aptly named The Obesity Paradox: When Thinner Means Sicker and Heavier Means Healthier telling us all that it’s fine to be overweight, we just need to be fit, too.
But before we all go jogging (slowly) towards the donuts, we surely have to ask if this is the best we can now hope for. Are we all so incapable of maintaining a healthy weight that we have to resign ourselves to being ‘bordering on obese but fit,’ because it’s at least preferable to ‘morbidly obese’ or ‘dangerously thin’? I’m sorry, Dr. Lavie, but the only people who can legitimately be fat and fit simultaneously are sumo wrestlers.
Reflecting on my own years of being overweight, I’ve realized that I became fat simply because I gave up. Aside from the odd kick of adrenaline, I hated bond broking — even though it’s taken me a while to realize it. I got home exhausted, ate whatever I could pick up on the way, spent my weekends sleeping having lost touch with my friends, and with no energy to do any of the things I used to love. Disenchanted, unfulfilled and alienated, I convinced myself this was just what happened when you grew up and got a job — that being fat, exhausted and miserable was the price I had to pay for success, but that eventually I’d earn enough money to buy back my health and happiness. In the meantime, I’d settle for the cheap thrill of processed food.
Fortunately, I was fired for gross misconduct when I wrote an article for the Spectator. I was able to change my career and eventually rescue my body, which had become unrecognizable. It wasn’t my natural weight, and away from the excessive, nefarious world of finance, it felt incongruous — like I’d borrowed a fat suit for my brief odyssey to the trading floor, and I now no longer needed such thick skin. I was ready to re-enter the land of the living, and for that I wanted my strong, fit body back — not this impostor with chafing thighs.
I would argue that our addiction to fast food, corruption of the food chain, lack of interest in physical activity and resulting obesity epidemic is a symptom of a far more serious problem: the collective misery caused by our increasingly solipsistic, alienating societies. We’ve detached not only from each other, but now even from our bodies, which we no longer take any responsibility for, or pride in, beyond the odd Instagram snap. Social media provides cheap, accessible thrills that are to real society what a Big Mac is to a sirloin of grass-fed Devon beef. Behind our computers, we barely need to be physically present or embodied in the world as our lives can be played out online, through any persona we want, and advances in medicine will continue enabling us to live longer, even if we’re too obese to move.
Celebrities and the rich, meanwhile, will continue crafting whatever ‘real-life’ bodies they want, and documenting the entire process online, alongside what they wear for their daily sojourns into the real world, for the poor underclass to ‘follow’ from their computers: bedridden, hopeless and obese. With apologies to Edmund Spenser, it turns out it’s no longer the soul that’s form, and doth the body make — it’s an expensive personal trainer and a good surgeon, or if all else fails, an online avatar will do.
We cannot allow this madness to progress further than it already has. Having a functional, fit body cannot become the ‘privilege’ of the upper classes, or of celebrities who can afford personal trainers and daily deliveries of perfectly balanced healthy food. The ‘thigh gap’ cannot become yet another measure of worldwide wealth inequality for Thomas Piketty to pick at.
To combat obesity, we have to take responsibility for our bodies again and stop seeing them in the abstract. They are what make us human, and rooted in society — we do not live alone inside our iPhones (yet). Caring about our bodies and wanting to be strong can be seen as a spiritual and civic duty; of not being ready to give up; of life embodied still meaning something beyond a mindless ‘selfie’ on Instagram. Getting up and going out and engaging with the world, and aspiring to be a healthy member of society is what gives us dignity — helping us to live ‘as if’ our lives and our bodies have meaning, which is preferable to giving up, or indeed succumbing to the new ‘fitspo’ trend of spending all day taking photographs of your butt.
Rather than our governments implementing endless abstract notions upon ours lives, like five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, we should perhaps start by teaching children that their lives don’t have to be a race to the (fat) bottom; teaching them values beyond the mindless pursuit of ‘success,’ celebrity, money, and the all-too-brief kick provided by MSG in fast food, and encouraging them to strive for meaningful vocations, skills and the resulting dignity that with any luck won’t leave them with the sort of moral and spiritual void that they’ll spend their entire lives trying to fill with donuts.