I was catching up on a large pile of magazines and newspapers the other day when a feature on a once-obese woman called Karen Hogan caught my eye. She'd been overweight since childhood but finally, after being diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and having suffered from osteoarthritis in her joints for years, she realised she had to lose weight.
In one year, she lost ten stones to bring her down from around 20 stones and a size 22 to size 10-12. Today, some years later, unlike most people who lose weight, she has managed to maintain that admirable 10 stone loss, and looks gorgeous at 56.
Her secret to weight maintenance is simple, if tragic: “My terror of piling weight back on overshadows every moment of every day” she says, in a horrifyingly casual kind of way, in You magazine, as if it's somehow okay for her to be terrified every minute of her life.
I got to thinking about this. Her fatty liver disease has gone. Her confidence levels have improved (though not much - even now she talks about having a face lift to rid her of 'loose skin and deep lines' although in the photo of her today she looks lovely by any standard, and it took years for her to stop ordering clothes in her old size, or look in a full length mirror.
However her life didn't follow the path she would have wanted, because of her size. It had been her childhood ambition to be a BA flight attendant – after losing weight she was finally accepted but the job was short-lived as her obesity-induced arthritis forced her to quit.
She had a daughter but still feels guilty today that her obesity resulted in pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure and her baby daughter could have died (as could she, though she doesn't mention that possibility).
I admire Karen and her sheer day-in day-out determination – she puts me to shame, for certain – but I so wish she'd never had to lose weight in the first place. I so wish she'd never got that fat. She was a victim of her circumstances and hardly had a chance.
As a young girl, with very busy parents, she'd spend long hours at home alone in her room, eating crisps and sweets. Later, when sent to boarding school, her comfort eating turned into bingeing on cakes, chocolate and so on “that filled the emptiness”.
As new research reveals that 60% of our British children – some as young as three – now have a tablet, it is fast becoming the norm for them to prefer to spend their time alone on the internet chatrooms or playing games rather than out and about meeting other young people in real life, we're going to get many, many more Karen Hogans. I picture, in ten or 15 years, almost all our youngsters hugely overweight, gorging on snack food in their rooms, staring at a screen.
Maybe not too far in the future, even school may be something that all kids do at home, via computer lessons and links.
It's not a concept I like the thought of at all, but I don't think it's that far-fetched. In the future, millions upon millions of children will be growing up and facing opportunities missed in every single area of their lives due to isolation, obesity and lack of confidence, unless somehow we can grab back some of the old ways of raising our kids, rather than encouraging them to live in a world of internet and junk food.
I have grandchildren, and I'm afraid – very afraid.
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