The incredible shrinking man

Six weeks ago, he weighed 18 stone and compared his girth to that of a heavyweight boxer. Then he devised a diet plan that restricted him to just 200 calories each day. Now, 50lb lighter, Simon Carr shares the secrets of his extreme slimming regime
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Indy Lifestyle Online

At the beginning of August, I was preceded through doorways by five extra inches of myself, consisting of 52 pounds of blubber under my coat. When I pick up 52 pounds now I am amazed how I could have been so fat, carrying that weight around all day. The most interesting thing about the diet that lost the weight is how angry it makes nutritionists. Professionals and amateurs alike suck their teeth and say it's wrong, it's folly, it's dangerous, but most important of all: it won't work. They have said: "You have to eat or your metabolism slows down and you won't lose weight; if your body thinks it's starving it will seize any calories it can and store them as fat." And, "It's unsustainable. You'll just put all the weight back on in two months."

At the beginning of August, I was preceded through doorways by five extra inches of myself, consisting of 52 pounds of blubber under my coat. When I pick up 52 pounds now I am amazed how I could have been so fat, carrying that weight around all day. The most interesting thing about the diet that lost the weight is how angry it makes nutritionists. Professionals and amateurs alike suck their teeth and say it's wrong, it's folly, it's dangerous, but most important of all: it won't work. They have said: "You have to eat or your metabolism slows down and you won't lose weight; if your body thinks it's starving it will seize any calories it can and store them as fat." And, "It's unsustainable. You'll just put all the weight back on in two months."

And, "Losing that much weight so quickly diminishes the blood volume, which reduces the oxygen delivered to the brain and increases the risk of a heart attack." My loving sibling became very worried and explained how cooking would cause ulcers (the food smells stimulate stomach acid and without any food to work on it would eat through the stomach lining). My body would eat itself!

I've done it before and, in the absence of a heart attack, I dare say I'll do it again. It suits me. It fits with my psychological deformities. I'm not suggesting it would suit anyone else. I wouldn't dream of recommending it to you. I don't want to be sued by your loved ones for some new offence of Arm's-Length Homicide when you keel over because you haven't got any more red corpuscles, or some sort of insulin binge turns you upside down.

At the beginning of last month I was 18 stone (115kg). Opinion was divided as to whether I resembled the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, but it was certainly the final trimester. I had jowls which were on the brink of being shakeable. But my body image was extraordinarily high. "I'm heavier than Mike Tyson!" I boasted. "Soon I'll be heavier than Nicholas Soames!"

But this summer was made different by two things. I believed some gobbledygook that Guy from over the road told me about diabetes (he's a psychiatrist and knows how to frighten people). And then the week on the boat where I didn't take off my shirt, not for sunbathing, or for swimming. The combination of the two set me off on a diet

The details of the diet change from year to year. This time, I developed what some maestro might call "a calorie-restricted diet". I found a way of consuming no more than 200 calories a day (a boiled egg is 80 calories, keep away from eggs). That went on through August and the first part of September. Last week I was hovering between 14st 5lbs and 14st 6lbs (92kg and 93kg). The experience has offered life-changing possibilities. For instance, I landed my first nude spread in a national newspaper. Very few parliamentary sketch writers can say that.

Of course, by Christmas, I may well be back up to 18 stone. More satisfyingly for the professionals, I may have had a stroke. "Ah, yes that was the risk he was running, putting his body under that stress."

Question: Why 200 calories? A packet of crisps is more than 200 calories. Surely you can't get by on so little? The recommended intake is 2,500 calories for a male. So the food shops tell us. But it won't have escaped your notice they are selling us as much food as they can. They can't make a pint of soup under 200 calories, so if you want to follow this regimen you have to do it yourself. My special recipe makes up a kilogram of vegetable salad spiced with every kind of delicious herb and powder and lasts a day. And it contains 200 calories. In theory it's not enough to keep you going because it has no carbohydrates, no oil, no protein. It has bulk, though, it fills a fellow up.

Why so extreme all the time? Approach it sensibly. You've more chance of sticking to it if you try a moderate approach. Oh, really? How do you know that? Sensible, moderate people like sensible moderate approaches. But what about those of us who don't think of themselves in those terms? There are those of us who get bored with industry-approved dieting. Losing five pounds a month is like doing coursework.

You'll get obsessive. You'll get anorexic.

True, that is something to beware of. Ten years ago I managed a three-month regime which lost a stone a month. My weight had gone from 17 stone to 14 stone when quite suddenly one morning I looked in the mirror and thought I looked gaunt. And liked it. Then I got a glimpse of a world over the fence, the world where skinny teenage girls live, and exercise their personal power over their physique. We don't want to go there.

So, to begin.

The first step is giving up alcohol. Alcohol in moderation is good for you, they say. People who drink half a bottle of wine a day are said live longer. But people who are able to drink half a bottle are the sort of steady, contented people who are going to live longer than I will whether they drink or not. When I've had half a bottle, I forget the reason for not drinking the second half. Or a second bottle. Along with the reasons for not ordering the prawn cocktail, the roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and the apple crumble. So chardonnay has to go, in my experience, not just for its calories (700 a bottle) but for its unintended consequences.

Second: choosing your regime. My new principle was hardly original. Some dieticians say carbohydrates make you fat, other dieticians say fat makes you fat. I say calories make you fat. If you want to get less fat, consume fewer calories. And spend more calories in exercise. As I say, it's hardly original. When I eat 200 calories and do half-an-hour of gym a day, I lose weight.

The day after I stopped drinking I woke up 2lbs lighter. We had begun. I felt a little push of excitement, of adrenalin, perhaps. Somehow I got through the day with tea and coffee. There was an orange at bedtime. That helped shrink the stomach even further. The new habit was being formed. Oddly for someone as mercurial as myself, I am also intensely habitual. The diet has to take into account these sorts of factors, or it won't work. I didn't eat anything on the Sunday either and got quite light-headed as a result (another bonus).

I forget when I stopped fasting. Maybe I had a little something on the Monday but the pounds were falling off, and I was running and doing my sit-ups and the world looked fresh. This was dieting as sport. It was a competition event. Three days into the diet and I'd lost the better part of half a stone. You can't quibble over half a stone in three days. Of course you can. "If you don't eat, you won't lose weight," they insisted, those who knew about these things. "Your metabolism will slow down to compensate for the lack of fuel you're taking in. It's like a hibernation reflex."

My tactic was to prevent my metabolism from slowing down by the 20-minute run in the morning and 300 to 500 sit-ups every day. The pace of the diet slowed, naturally, as it does. But every day that week, 2lbs went.

There were occasional binges of not eating at all in the first fortnight. There was a lot of cooking as teenagers came in and out of the house. It was important to do things with my hands. The daze I'd gone into over that first fasting cleared. By buying calorie-counting books, I developed a number of dishes that made daily life sustainable, at least for a month. And I learnt some interesting facts. Special K has slightly more calories than treacle tart, for one. I hope you're shocked.

It turns out the most edible vegetables have 20 calories per hundred grams or less. Mushrooms, onions, celery, cucumber, aubergine, red peppers, watercress and rocket. There's a lot of raw flavour in some of these ingredients, and a lot of bulk in others. I also need things that feel different in the mouth (mushrooms and aubergines do this). No bread, no pasta, no rice. No flapjacks (the ones at the gym have 500 calories). No (sob) doughnuts.

Protein? I thought, "Never mind about protein, not for the time being." While I was doing 500 sit-ups a day I felt I must be getting enough of what I needed. And this diet wasn't the real diet, this was just to get started. This was just the initial curtain raiser, to get down there. Then the maintenance diet would have to be discovered.

But you do have to eat, even I admit that. The salads I was putting together were a very important element in getting through the 40 days. I slice it all up very finely, usually until I cut my finger. The alchemy takes place when the tiny pieces combine unpredictably.

Somewhere in the second week, a lacuna. The weight stayed the same for three days. The critics celebrated. But I discovered why. It surprised even them. For all its essential elements or vitamins or hormonal facilitators, vegetable oil is pure calorific evil. Onions are 20 calories per 100 grams. But if you fry them in oil they become 320 calories. I was also using lemon oil or basil oil to fry up chunks of aubergine. It had to stop. And stopping the oil kicked off the weight loss again, albeit more slowly, 1lb on a good day, nothing much the next. On we went, hacking a way down the scales.

Towards the end of the fourth week, at about 15 stone, a more important slow-down occurred. One Saturday, I ate nothing to speak of and lost nothing. The next day, vindictively, I ate nothing at all and woke up just 1lb lighter. I also - and this was the important part - felt washed out. Getting up and going to work was possible, but running was a fag. For the first time in 40 days, I did no sit-ups.

We had come, I felt, to the point the experts had described. It isn't all complete tosh they talk. I needed to eat in order to exercise in order to keep the dynamic tension between calories in and weight down. So I ate half-a-dozen prawns for breakfast, and 3oz (80g) of chicken for lunch (using a pastry brush to daub the pieces with soy sauce), went to the gym in a fury and woke up 2lb lighter the following day. And there it is. Here we are, hovering between 14st 5lbs and 14st 6lbs.

Now what? Now I have to eat or not eat to keep my weight where it is. Time will tell. And the book will tell as well. This ought to be a book: the diet denounced by every medical professional in the West.

SHADOWS OF THEIR FORMER SELVES

Literary agent Ed Victor lost 50lbs by cutting out animal fat. It did add considerable weight to his wallet, however; his book The Obvious Diet became an unexpected bestseller. "I think a lot of men have this problem," he says. "We stick out in front."

One man who certainly stuck out in front was chubby Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, who lost five stone in a few months by cutting out dairy products and alcohol. His imaginatively titled The Nigel Lawson Diet Book also became a bestseller.

Dale Winton, a self-confessed "yo-yo dieter", recently lost three stone after claiming that "dieting makes you fat". His secret is "healthy eating and exercise". He has yet to confirm whether dieting turns you orange.

When Karl Lagerfeld turned up at his summer show in 2001 a conspicuous five stone sparer, media commentators gasped at his achievement. Lagerfeld achieved his svelte physique with a diet of cacti, horsemeat and fish.

Not to be outdone by his designer rival, Alexander McQueen opted for the swifter results afforded by cosmetic surgery and dietary supplements, after a comfort-eating splurge at Givenchy.

Ed Caesar

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