21 March 2022

Making Weight

Since January, I have been suffering again from the knowledge of good and evil I uncovered by accident when I first tried to lose weight in 2005, around the time I met Yoko and thought I might be able to get her to like me if I cleaned up a bit and lost some weight. That autumn, I had begun running in a Japanese city gym on a treadmill, before realising that I could also run outside when the weather was nice, and that if I just kept a simple ledger of what I ate, I could become thinner than I thought I ever could be, that Fat Stephen, the jovial and annoyed and loud figure of my youth, could become vaguely attractive, could have a jawline and could maybe get with this kind, beautiful Japanese woman seven years older than me, with a car and nice apartment and full-time job and a seemingly endless well of patience. It was all very simple, I just had to pay a bit more attention to what I ate and like magic, in three months, I would no longer be fat. 

On Saturday morning, this Saturday morning some fifteen or twenty years later, the same story I've told like a founding myth, only now with apps and running schedules, and fitness trackers, that same story that I was so proud to tell the first time, got told again: I woke up and stripped off my clothes and weighed myself, having been in a caloric deficit now for something like eleven weeks. The Japanese scale we bought around the time we got married and which we still have leaned against the toilet wall in the house on Victoria Road beeped and calculated and came back one-tenth of a point too high. Seventy-six even. I shut it off and climbed on again and then I did it again, and then it was magically the right number, the number of success, the obsessive goal accomplished. The first time this happened in 2005, I was elated: I had done it, I had made it happen, against the empirical reality that I was a sloppy, disgusting child with no self-control, but who had somehow started on the path to maturity. This wasn't, of course, true in any way, and now, with every subsequent retelling, the whole process feels less and less like a success, and more like the inevitable event at the end of a chain of other events that take over my life for a time and give me a sad purpose. The scale screen went blank and I put the number into the calorie tracker and the running app and the spreadsheet and had a cup of coffee.

At least this round of pursuit of the number was markedly uneventful, healthy even. My worst impulses stayed a bay. I ate more-or-less what I wanted and did avoid, more than I have in the past, the sort of weird obsessive things I have found myself doing in other retellings. Going for a walk at nine-thirty to burn another hundred and fifty calories for example. Or eating two thousand calories before eight am and then trying to make it through the rest of the day eating nothing. Or saying no when offered some cake at work and hiding the real reason you were saying no with the most unbelievable lie that I wasn't actually hungry like that was even possible. I didn't do any of that. 

Instead, I did more acceptable obsessive activities, ones that can be found in charts about how to run a sub-three-hour marathon. The charts don't say it, but I knew there was one clear, ugly truth: I can't run a sub-three-hour marathon if I'm eighty-six kilos, even if I'd trained as hard as I possibly could. It's just a simple calculation. You run faster if you have less you to drag around the course. I motivated myself with the thought of how pathetic I felt at mile twenty-three of the Chester marathon when I almost started to cry. You shouldn't hate yourself, or hate your body, but if I'm honest, I never hated myself more than I did in that moment, my body failing me and having no choice but to keep going. 

When I first lost weight, I did it for a lie about love, essentially: some spurious thought that I could accomplish a series of tasks that would result in Yoko loving me. This was silly, the way that many thoughts I had as an American twenty-three-year-old Evangelical Christian about relationships and marriage and sex were silly: they had no real attachment to reality, particularly in a Japanese context. The weight loss this year honed in on a much more real and tangible and empirical lie about love, a love that can be attained through effort. On Sunday, I ran with this love in mind, the way a thin man nearing forty runs fast in a slow way, the perfection of a marathon strategy that requires running well below your ability for some ten miles and then easing into a marathon pace. It's a counter-intuitive love: you have to be patient, to fall behind, to let your body find the pace rather than tell it what the pace is, and then at some point to let it overtake you and to run with everything you have, with all the energy you have saved up, with passion, with abandon. This sort of love. 

I thought the obsession with my weight would stop at some point. I've been told that the older you get, the less concerned you become with the things that you were concerned with while you were younger. That you come to accept yourself as you are, and whatever you lose in ambition, you gain back in peace of mind. You become easier to live with, even if you become less sexually attractive, and for anyone hoping to make it in a long-term relationship, the sort of relationship that leads on to the two of you sitting in some new coffee shop on the high street, pleasantly chatting despite forty years of each other's insufferability, staying sexually attractive is the least of your concern. In fact, the loss of sexual attractiveness does you more and more good the older you get. You should welcome it, you should stop trying to lose weight and wear the jeans you wore when you were thirty and the thinnest you ever were. You're not thirty anymore, now you eat cake and laugh and fall asleep. 

But here I am again, naked on a scale early on a Saturday morning trying to be thin. I dreamt I died last night and I woke up at a party and a woman I didn't know, a woman who was younger than me, but not young, had a dog and asked me to go for a walk with her and I said I would, surprised even in my dream I had shed my Evangelical guilt which has been always present in my subconscious. I'd gone with her without being afraid that I would get caught, that somehow my parents would appear and look at me and I would know I had done something wrong. I woke up before the alarm and made coffee and planned another run, twenty days now from another marathon on the Welsh coastline when I either will or will not run in less than three hours. But I will love it, even if I'm not sure what it is. I will be alone and the night before, I will look at my thin body and touch my stomach the way I do when I've lost weight and I can't seem to believe that I, the boy who has always been fat, am thin now. Maybe just for a moment, but really, everything is just a moment, every love is transient, both coming and going at the same time.