“Burchill vs her bulge! Bon viveur JULIE BURCHILL has long despised dieters. But here, with typically caustic wit, she tells why she's finally declared war on her flab”.

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Personal training | Fitness | Nutrition

Matt Guy Wright

A picture of matt guy wright and Julie Burchill in GYM“Recently, I’ve decided to lose some weight. It’s not because of the usual tragic female vanity thing — not being able to get into nice clothes, or thinking that a wolf whistle in the street was for me when it was for some skinny piece, or my husband not fancying me.

On the contrary, I am relieved that I don’t get the chance to spend money on clothes any longer — when I was a size 12, in the Eighties, I thought nothing of blowing a couple of thousand pounds in 15 minutes in Browns of South Molton Street.

I actually relish street invisibility after decades of being bothered for sex every time I nipped out to buy a pint of bourbon, and my husband I get along extremely well, thank you, even after 17 years together.

I am firmly of the opinion that women who make a lot of effort to hang onto their looks in middle age (unless they are beauties, entertainers or prostitutes) are rather sad, as one should surely have something more substantial to recommend one by this time, such as kindness or cleverness.

It wasn’t even being unable to do up my seatbelt on a plane — regrettably for me, that never happened. I always said, as I crept up from a size 16 to a size 18 to a size 20, that I would finally get around to losing weight when I couldn’t do my seatbelt up, as I love to go on holiday and do it often.

Last year, I read of how Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray had to ask for an extension to her belt on a trip to Thailand. That was what I needed — to reach rock bottom, like they say you have to with any problem.

I thus found myself in the ridiculous position of having rock-bottom envy; how on earth was I expected to get a bottom like a rock when I couldn’t hit rock bottom? But then, a couple of weeks back, I saw my best friend walk into a restaurant for another friend’s birthday on crutches. My friend is just a few years older than me; I’m 53

One week this autumn we were driving through the mountains of Corsica chasing the sun from beach to beautiful beach — the next we were back in Blighty and her teenage daughter was in tears on the phone because her mother couldn’t move her legs. My friend had developed brain lesions, which stopped her being able to walk and meant she had to learn all over again.

She’s the most selfless person I have ever known. I met her when she was my boss at my first volunteer job and despite our differences — she is a chaste, teetotal vegetarian who was very physically active; I’m, um, not — we became as close as the sisters we never had. Her great joy was to go out and roam with her beloved dog for hours on end.

To see her trying to walk again, the pain and concentration cutting into her face, was heartbreaking.

She said she felt like The Little Mermaid, but the original story rather than the dolled-up, watered-down Disney version — ‘Every step she took was as the witch had said it would be, she felt as if she was treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives.’

To see someone who gloried in their mobility struck down like this made my blood run cold. And made me take a good look at myself. I’ve always been idle and hedonistic, with a lifestyle that has allowed me to do what I want, when I want, all my working life.

And what I wanted most, in recent years, was to lie upon the sofa all day eating sweets and watching re-runs of Frasier before meeting my husband at one of Brighton & Hove’s gorgeous restaurants, where we would eat, drink and be merry like it was going out of fashion.

Only last month, I wrote a piece in this very newspaper lambasting Joanna Lumley for picking on porkers. What I didn’t say was that my weight gain over the years has had some medical consequences.

About five years ago, after years of being misdiagnosed with gout, it turned out that my left foot was in the throes of a rare auto-immune syndrome that meant it was consuming itself: the specialist described the X-rays as ‘looking as if the very bones of the foot are moth-eaten’.

I was told that amputation was an outside possibility, but that I would first be put into a hydraulic boot (the same kind David Beckham wore when he broke his metatarsal) for six months to see if the foot could heal.

Julie Burchill on exercise ball with Matt Guy Wright sitting beside her in gymHappily it did, but it left me with deformation and pain in the foot itself, and one leg an inch longer than the other, bringing with it spinal pain and disturbance of balance.

But with typical glass-half-fullism, I did not wail: ‘Why me?’ Instead, I — somewhat shamefully — thought, ‘Oooh, good job it happened to me, who likes an excuse to be idle, and not some active young blood whose idea of kicks is getting up at the crack of dawn and running along the seafront in the rain! (And how many codeine do I get on repeat prescription?!)’

Having rationalised it thus, I duly embraced my semi-invalid status — conveniently forgetting it, of course, when there was partying to be done and fun to be had. And so, like Topsy, I just growed and growed.

Mind you, I’ve always been a very off-message type of fat broad; one who gladly admits she reached the size she is now solely through lack of discipline and love of pleasure, and who rather despises people (except those with proven medical conditions) who pretend that it is generally otherwise.

Gluttony and idleness are two of life’s great joys, but they are not honourable. ‘Big women’ — a tragic alibi, as is the mimsy ‘curvy girls’: a fat broad is a fat broad, full stop — do themselves a disservice when they attempt to become the Righteous Fat. The Righteous Thin are bad enough, all that running around and sweating, and somehow believing that it means anything.

My ease with my fatness, yet my lack of attachment to it, meant that I had nothing against losing weight in principle — I’d just rather have fun.

But seeing my friend robbed of the gift of mobility, and realising that the same could happen to me within a few years if I continued to put such daily pressure on my poor feet and knees, really made me re-think my (prone) position.

When I met a friend of a friend who happened to a be a personal trainer in the only gym in Brighton right on the seafront, one I’d often looked at with curiosity while carousing, it seemed like fat fate.

I was totally taken with Matthew. My enchantment with my new friend was not even dimmed when he informed me that I weighed SIXTEEN STONE, TWO POUNDS (I should be around 12st — so I need to lose a QUARTER of my body weight) and had a body mass index of 33.5, which should be in the low to mid 20s. The actual fat percentage of my body was a whopping 45 per cent when it should be in the low 30s.

Typically bumptious, I all but gave myself a round of applause, a pat on the back and a vote of confidence as I smirked: ‘Wow, that’s really bad, isn’t it?’

But the laugh was on me. As Matt led me through the gym, it seemed to me that the machines were mocking my corpulence with their sleek efficiency.

I managed less than two minutes on the cross-trainer and when we down-sized to the Swiss ball — a space hopper, minus the jolly face and useful handles — I was too mesmerised in the mirror by how much we resembled each other to really concentrate on the instructions Matt was giving me.

When he ushered me over to a series of contraptions that looked like something out of Fifty Shades Of Grey, it was time to make my excuses, in time-honoured journalistic style, and leave.

‘I don’t want to hurt my deformed foot!’ I reminded Matt.

‘Of course not . . .’

‘And I don’t want to hurt my food baby either.’ I cuddled my massive gut protectively. ‘She’s a growing girl, and needs her rest.’

Matthew blinked in surprise, but gamely played along: ‘Does she have a name?’

‘Fifi Belle. Fifi the food baby.’

Matt laughed appreciatively. I love an easy laugher! I knew we were going to get along fine. I was going to do my very, very best for him. (And if I got bored with trying, I could distract him by making him laugh instead.) When I woke up the morning after the first session, I couldn’t believe how much I hurt.

But Matt had warned me that this would be the reaction of muscles which had been atrophying for the worst part of 40 years, silently screaming with disbelief as they were forced to work once more.

‘No pain, no gain!’ which I had once dismissed as the half-witted babble of brain-dead  self-flagellators, was now a grim reality in my lotus-eating life.

To add insult to injury, by the start of the second week, I had gained two pounds!

As I stood there on the scales attempting to look shame-faced, my mind flashed back to the journey round the world of cheese (with accompanying wines) I had so gaily embarked upon with my husband in La Cave a Fromage cheese shop that past Saturday night. Folly, thy name is Stinking Bishop!

Nevertheless, in week two, a shift happened. At the start of it, my babyish yells of ‘I don’t like it!’, ‘I’m not doing any more!’ and ‘I want my bottle!’ could be heard ringing above the pumping house music of the cavernous gym. By the end of it, I had shut up and got down to it.

After only the sixth session, one friend said ‘You’ve lost weight!’. I hadn’t, but the strengthening of my core muscles in just six hours had already slightly improved the size and shape of my Jabba the Huttish gut. And, amazingly, my high blood pressure had come down from 152 to 138 — though 120 is what it should be.

Sadly, the weekend of week two saw me whooping it up at a Hanukkah party. The things I do for Israel, I reflected, as I wolfed my third doughnut, washing it down with pink champagne. I put off being weighed the following Monday, but I did notice that things were considerably easier than they had been, and by the end of week three I was down to just under 16st. Woo hoo!

We broke up temporarily — me, Matthew and the scales — for Christmas. It probably wasn’t, on paper, the most logical thing to start on a personal training plan in December.

But I’ve always been a contrarian, and even though I got up to all sorts of calorific mischief over the holidays, I feel pleased to know that I have my weight-loss programme in place for the New Year — a first, for me.

I’m aiming to lose a quarter of my body weight and have signed up for 44 sessions, which cost me £1,500. To be fair, the bar bill at my last birthday party was more than that.

And even if I get bored and give up, I’ve made a brilliant new friend in Matthew. At the end of an email he sent me of my statistics — BMI, blood pressure, lung capacity and the like — he added the following: ‘Personality: Fab. Is at the ideal level of fabulousness. Must be sustained in the future.’

At least I know that’s one thing I won’t be struggling with.”

By Julie Burchill

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