Monday 14 May 2007

They call it 'comfort eating' for a reason!

My folks must have been pretty clued-in back in the early 1970s. At the age of 12 I was flying high at my prep school. A straight 'A' student with loads of friends, I was made a Prefect and Patrol Leader, which was like being a House Captain, but more British Empire altogether.
Whilst never slim, I was at that age chubby more than fat. The First and Second Eleven rugby and cricket teams were packed with my friends, while I and the other physical noodles who hadn't made the grade pootled about with balls, and went home
Those straight 'A's in my Common Entrance examinations meant I was heading for Merchant Taylors School, a lesser yet still majestic Public School.
To truly understand the English Public School, one must not see a school at all; but rather, a business.
Instead of producing educated children, this business is designed solely to create candidates who will be accepted into Oxford or Cambridge Universities; 'Oxbridge' as it is known.
The more Oxbridge candidates a Public School can score, the more applications from prospective students it will receive. Once supply outruns demand, élitism can establish itself. Only the 'best' students are accepted, producing better Oxbridge results, allowing the charging of higher fees, until finally you end up with what is known as a 'good school'.
Taylor's decided that my grades were good enough to rush me along. So they put me in a class that was called 'Divisions', filled as it was with newly-arrived scholarship students, and a scruffy bunch of lesser Taylors beings who had been held back a year.
Looking back it could so easily have been a rewrite of A Star Is Born, wherein bright young things come into contact with falling jaded stars.
But it wasn't. Not for me anyway.
For me it was hell. From being a popular clever little boy I was suddenly the dumbest kid in the class. It was impossible for me to keep up with the scholarship lads, because they had specialised for a year in Classics and wotnot, and worse, I couldn't cut the mustard with the Apeneck Sweeney's who had already been weeded from the Public School system as Oxbridge no-hopers, henceforth irrelevant as human beings, unless they played sport, in which case recruit, humiliate, crush the buggers to tiny pieces and then rebuild them in your own image. 'Training' they called it.
My mates had gone elsewhere. I was alone, and for the first time the thicko of the class, a figure of fun and mockery. Hand in hand ('scuse me) with all that came something as fundamental as the shape and size of my bits changing, and insanely powerful adolescent urges flooding through me.
So I did what any good Jewish boy does given the opportunity and a wall to feel hard up against.
I ate. I ate and ate, not like bingey carrier bags of chocolate bars hidden under the bed, but just a lot of stuff that made me feel better. Naturally I got fat, which was a perfect match for my being suddenly stupid, still unsporting and having an absolute lack of Chick Magnetivity.
Clearly in touch with modern trends, my parents did what they thought was right. As an act of love they saw my size, and understood that it came from a pain within.
Unfortunately they concluded that they were unqualified to know what it might be, and so they took me up to Harley Street, to see some guy in a white coat who was essentially a Specialist For Fat Boys.
Funny they never wondered whether my increase in weight might be linked in some way to the collapse of my old world; that maybe a selfish school had rushed me at my own expense, in the hope of scoring an early Oxbridge hit.
Point is, after that visit I felt branded though like Brighton Rock - Fat Boy was part of every (lipid) cell in my body.
By the time I was sixteen I weighed sixteen stone. It wasn't until I left school and abandoned the future that others had mapped out for me that I started to feel better, and to this day I relish my freedom from that tyranny.
At no point did I need a shrink to point out to me the link between size, self-image and self-confidence. Just wish some adults had copped on, that's all.
Sadly, we continue to develop more and more unhealthy obsessions with looking good and feeling healthy. There now exists an extreme disorder called 'Orthorexia', an obsessive condition in which the subject tries to eat only what they perceive is absolutely safe and healthy.
As there is no longer a single authority that offers definitive truths about such matters, it becomes for orthorexics almost impossible to choose an ethical, healthy and nutritious diet. One day you drink soy milk, and the next you find out that the phyto-oestrogens in soya might be dangerous.
Orthorexics become anorexic, because they have to settle for a diet less than vegan.
Poor sods. My heart goes out to them, and my heart might well give out and go pop long before them, but I do enjoy my diet.
And strangely, as the years go by, I become less enamoured with the unhealthy stuff. Last week I ordered a pizza and didn't enjoy it at all, which is only remarkable in that the same thing happened two weeks ago. Hmmm...
Some might suggest that I've just sighted my mortality on the horizon and am reining in my hedonism, but I don't think so.
These days I simply enjoy being in my body, even though I am well aware that there is far too much of it,and enjoy trying to put good food into it, whilst walking and throwing myself around enough to sweat and puff and feel all endorphinny buzzy and good.
Aye, despite the cruel efforts of a sadistic school system and a well-meant yet misguided piece of parenting, my body truly loves feeling alive.

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