After working for more than three years as an administrator with district nurses (they visit housebound patients), I’m familiar with their dedication, conscientiousness, professionalism, stoicism, good-humouredness, empathy – and their enthusiasm for food.
There are various reasons why this team, perhaps nurses generally, are at least as prone to carb (and fat) loading as the wider population: the stress and pressure of the job, no staff cafe, sometimes eating on the go or only in truncated breaks, patients giving gifts of chocolates etc, cultural norms (the Nigerian and Ghanaian ladies I work with certainly seem to value fuller figures), a fatalism from seeing disease affect the young and fit as well as the old and fat. And of course a self-reinforcing peer pressure where anyone slim is seen as, and is, the odd one out.
Regularly, I am amused by remarks that reflect the centrality of food to my colleagues. Perhaps the most hilarious was the day after the London riots (the health centre is in Tottenham):
[African nurse of mature years, choking with anger]: The fucking bastards even burnt down Dunkin’ Donuts…
Given my own gluttony and laziness, this particular nursing attribute was one I enthusiastically absorbed. Ignoring my better half’s admonitions to diet, my girth grew, my face fattened and my pectorals plumped up. My wake-up call only came when I had blood tests and my cholesterol levels were “that-is-high”-high. My GP nonchalantly said it was up to me whether to go on to statins right away or try a low-fat diet for six months.
I chose the latter and tightly embraced my own regimen – loosely described as Beer, Melon and Indolence (see what I’ve done there?). No reduction, if anything an increase in my daily beer intake (average of 2.5 pints, zero fat, 500 calories roughly), plenty of fruit, cottage cheese, yoghurt, oily fish, porridge, chicken slices and not much else. So – cutting out fatty foods and non-beer carbs. Making sure we had little or no “bad” foods in the flat and not eating during and after pub visits were other key changes. I also started cycling to work most days but reckoned that this used up few extra calories – I certainly did no vigorous exercise.
On several occasions, a Health Care Professional (HCP) would ask me how I had managed to lose so much weight. I said I had given up various foods. This is a not untypical dialogue that ensued:
HCP: Like what?
ME: Have a guess.
HCP: (after a pensive pause): porridge?
ME: No, think fatty foods.
HCP: Like what? I don’t eat fatty foods…
ME: (each item met by a head-shaking denial that it was partaken of): chocolate…cake…nuts…crisps… ice cream… fried chicken and chips…
HCP: (swivelling on her heels and walking away): Oh no, I can’t give that up…
Result: after six months I had lost about 30 pounds and taken at least two inches off my waistline. It had a limited effect on my cholesterol readings, just as the HCPs I spoke to had told me. Even this gung-ho article states “…you may be able to lower your reading by up to 20 per cent in three months…” [my emphasis].
So, I plumped for the statins and am now back to a more normal, balanced way of eating and drinking. But I have still cut down on my real ale and try to avoid bringing sinful food home – unless it’s been reduced by 90% at our local Tesco Express.