But now, at last, I think I've found the answer. Bodywrapping and toning tables. I read about it in a women's magazine. They wrap you tightly in bandages soaked in warm sea clay containing natural minerals and Dead Sea salts. You stay like that for an hour and the treatment draws out toxins while the bandaging compresses the soft fatty tissue, making the skin smoother. I got excited just thinking about it.
Dr Sarah Brewer is a health writer who has tested a Dead Sea salt bodywrap for its healing properties. "It helps arthritis sufferers because the absorption of salts helps improve joint pain and stiffness," she explained. "And, done over a course, it's good for psoriasis, because the magnesium, calcium, bromide and zinc are absorbed into the skin cells helping to reduce the production of flaky skin. It's good for sports injuries, eczema, and stretch marks, too." Yes yes, but what about inch loss?
"Well, it produces a temporary firming of the skin and does reduce excess fluid. And if people are doing it while starting an exercise regime it can help everything."
That was good enough for me. I phoned Universal Contour Wrap who recommended a specialist near me. I called them instantly. They combined bodywrapping with toning tables, moving beds that are the ultimate in lazy exercise. (YES! I'm ho-ome! I thought.)
First, I had an important question.
"Will it turn me into Michelle Pfeiffer?" I asked. The woman on the other end of the phone laughed noisily. I didn't tell her I was serious.
"Bodywrapping only takes you down as far as your bone structure allows," she explained. Ignoring the fact that I have the bone structure of a Greek urn, I visualised skinny little thighs. We arranged a time for my first of three sessions. I turned up early.
Helena took me downstairs to a little, hot room with an enormous mirror in it.
"Take off all your clothes except your knickers," she ordered, while fishing the bandages out of their container. "Hold your hands up behind your head."
She started marking my body all over with a blue Biro and measured me everywhere. Upper chest, bust, lower bust, ribcage, waist, hips, upper thighs, thighs, knees, calves, even ankles. And then all down my arms, including my wrists. The measurements meant little to me - all I knew was that I wanted to be smaller. Preferably within the hour.
Helena wound 25 hot bandages round me, starting with my feet and working up to my neck. Then she picked up a giant pair of blue, plastic romper- suit trousers, yanked them up my legs and then put the matching top over my head. Finally she put my socks on my feet. The outfit and my humiliation were complete.
I did an excellent impression of a Thunderbirds puppet getting to the toning tables, which were up the stairs. Helena flicked a switch and the table leapt into action, mechanically pummelling my body and hurling my limbs around. I lay there, unbreathing, eyes wide open, while my buttocks, abdomen, front and back thighs were assaulted for 15 minute-long periods. After an hour, Helena helped my vibrating body back to the little room. There she whipped the bandages off me and measured me using the same tape measure. I scrutinised my reflection. I didn't look any different.
But I'd lost a whole inch off my waist! And another inch off my mid-thigh! And my calves! Three quarters off my abdomen! Half off my hips and thighs! Michelle Pfeiffer pfah! It was a struggle not to rush out on to the street and ask complete strangers if they wanted to feel my bottom.
"You've lost eight inches all over your body," explained Helena, showing me my measurements written up on a table.
"And that's all I have to do?" I said, glowing. "I just come back next week?"
"Nope," she said. "You must drink at least one-and-a-half litres of water a day for the next three days, not take a bath or eat any fatty foods, caffeine or fizzy drinks." I stared at her silently.
"You are NOT allowed," she wagged her finger at me. I obeyed.
The next week - my second bodywrap - I lost an inch off my buttocks, three quarters off my waist and half off my thigh and abdomen. Four and three quarters overall. I hadn't lost or gained any weight.
For the third wrap, there was only two-and-a-half inches lost overall. Most from my abdomen. No weight change again.
"You are wrapped out, my darling," said Helena. "Unless you diet, you will not lose any more inches."
I went home and, in a fit of pique, had a coffee. Then I tried on a pair of trousers I hadn't been able to fit into for two years. To my astonishment, they fitted. My waist was neat. My bottom was pert. My thighs were lithe. I couldn't breathe, but you can't have everything. I've got Helena's number in my diary and if I put those inches back on (or I need a smooth bottom for a special occasion,) I'll know where to go. In the meantime, I'm off to join a gym, tra lan
Universal Contour Wrap: 01784 259988. They cost around pounds 45 a session. You shouldn't do one if you have high blood pressure, kidney or heart problems