Monday, 18 September 2017

What is your "right" weight? The NHS thinks I should look like a famine victim.

I went for my annual diabetic check-up a few weeks ago. The good news (for me, at least) is that my Type II diabetes is under control. The bad news is that I'm between five and six stone overweight (that's 70 - 85lb. for American readers, and roughly 35-42Kgs for Remainers). I stand just under 6'5" tall, and, while I'm not built like a second-row forward, I'm no beanpole with disproportionately long, matchstick legs - finding trousers long enough is never a problem, but finding shirts that stick in my waistband for more than two minutes at a time definitely is. So I'm naturally a large man. When the nurse told me that, in effect, I was morbidly obese, I was so convinced that she'd made a mistake, I insisted on her showing me the NHS's "ideal weight" figures on the computer screen she was gazing at. No mistake. I informed her that...

in order to reach the recommended weight, I would either have to die or be hooked up to a life-support machine. At best, I said, I'd look like a famine victim (insensitive, as the nurse was African).

Brooding about all this afterwards, I checked online, where the NHS figures are entirely different. According to their "BMI healthy weight" calculator, I should be somewhere between 11st. 2lb. and 15st. 2lb. (i.e. 152lb. and 212lb.) Which still leaves me 29lb. above the upper limit. Which is still bloody ridiculous.

The heaviest I've ever been is 19st. 7lb. (I was probably a few three or four pounds short of that in the photo at the top this page). Last year, after a year on the Paleo Diet, followed by a month-long attack of acute pancreatitis (brought on by the aforementioned Paleo Diet), I tipped the scales at 16st. 1lb. I looked - I swear it - borderline gaunt. In some ways, it was great. There wasn't a single item of clothing in my cupboard that I couldn't get into comfortably, and the only minor problem was that I had to throw out some fat-man trousers and shirts which now looked vaguely ridiculous on me. Although I didn't feel particularly healthy, what with the CFS and not being able to eat solids for a month, I knew that I was at a "healthy" weight. I could probably have shed another half stone (thus bringing it down to 15st. 8lb., which I last reached - briefly - when I was 26). But even being just over 16st. felt wrong. Let me explain.

When I went out for a walk in my slimster clothes, I felt as if I wasn't occupying my proper allotted space in the universe. I suppose I'd become used to carrying a certain amount of heft. The thing I noticed was that passers-by didn't afford me as wide a berth as they used to do: it felt like they were just too damned near all the time - I felt positively crowded. I was the same height I'd always been, of course, but I suppose I no longer loomed to the same extent.  People were no longer in the least nervous about bumping into me. I'm not a space-hog - like many large people, I don't wish to come across as a bulky bully who expects smaller people (i.e. 99.693% of the population) to get out of my way: I try very hard not to encroach on other people's space. But I suppose I'd grown used to the caution that my former bulk tended to kindle in my fellow-pedestrians - their relaxed attitude struck me as a trifle impertinent.

So, for the only time in my life, I actually set about putting on weight deliberately (not actually that easy while harbouring a skittish pancreas). Over the next eight months I climbed to 17st. 3lb. That's my correct weight. It may very well not be the healthiest weight for me, but it's the right weight for me, psychologically: all my clothes still fit, fellow pedestrians and shoppers afford me a wide enough berth, and I feel like me once again. Now, having reached what I consider my ideal weight, the problem, naturally, is not piling on the 32lb. that would take me back up to the definitely unhealthy weight I was two years ago.

If my experience with the NHS's ideal weight calculator is anything to go by, it's no wonder the official obesity statistics have become so obese.


  1. "If my experience with the NHS's ideal weight calculator is anything to go by, it's no wonder the official obesity statistics have become so obese."

    And that's the problem - the figures are rubbish. Science (and in particular medical science) now no longer proceeds from observation to conclusion but begins with the conclusion. The 'five a day' nonsense is a good case in point. It was invented by a marketing person working for Californian fruit growers but because it so happily accorded with the neo-puritanical instincts of dieticians it soon became holy writ and 'scientists' set about justifying it.

    For 'five a day' see also 'low fat', 'no such thing as a safe level of alcohol' 'drink umpteen litres of water a day' - they're all delusions brought about by the source of so many modern social phenomena: the prevailing sense of guilt suffered by Western man, who on no account must be allowed to enjoy himself.

    1. ...and that guilt is ruthlessly exploited by a class of professional hectorers only too eager to supply our professional media outlets with tons of unfounded guilt-trippy guff - "A new report from the EU-funded MakingUpCrap Institute suggests that eating more than two radishes a year could give you herpes. I'm joined in the studio by the report author, Octavia Hampstead, the chairman of the British Radish Society, Seth Redface, and the politically neutral commentator, Owen Jones, who'll tell us it's all a Tory plot to destroy the working class. I'll start with you, Octavia. Based on your 40-word report, is there any reason all radishes shouldn't immediately be withdrawn from sale?"

      When I was an intrepid TV newshound, the Royal College of Nursing would - every year, regular as clockwork - release an utterly bogus press report claiming that 75% of Britain's nurses would prefer to work abroad, because NHS pay and working conditions were so terrible. Every year I'd argue that this was PR rubbish and not news, and every year, I'd be ignored, and we'd end up doing this non-story on all main news programmes. Nothing seems to have changed (except one gets the impression that 75% of NHS nurses come from abroad - perhaps their places back home have been filled by those British nurses who were so eager to leave).