Liz Kearney: 'Reach my best weight again? Fat chance...'
How much did you weigh when you were 20? Can you even remember? It could prove crucial, because new research suggests that women who stick within a stone-and-a-half of their weight at that age have a greatly increased chance of reaching 90.
The Dutch research, published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is extremely bad news for my own prospects of longevity; post two children and with a terrifyingly sedentary lifestyle, not to mention a serious camembert habit, I'm at the outer edges of this limit, weighing roughly 20lbs more than I did two decades ago.
But it did get me thinking about weight and how it can fluctuate. And I've realised that in my case, the happier and more settled I am, the fatter I am. By contrast, when everything is falling apart - due to romantic dramas, exam disasters, or just run-of-the-mill existential crises - my weight has plummeted.
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And while I'm not sure my thinnest self equals my healthiest self, it's the one other people like best. After picking up a particularly nasty bug in India, which involved being hospitalised twice and losing 20lbs in 10 days, I arrived back in the office looking like an extra from 'Night of the Living Dead'.
"Oh my God, what did you do? You look amazing!" cried my colleagues, as I struggled to sit upright at my desk. And I have never received so many compliments as when I dramatically dropped a stone during a particularly stressful period at college.
By contrast, the best times of my life, when I've felt really well, have corresponded to slow and assured weight gain. I'm thinking with fondness of the so-called 'Sydney stone', acquired through diligently consuming copious amounts of vodka and cranberry and barbecued shrimp in glorious sunshine on Bondi Beach.
These days I'm well aware I need to do something to edge closer to that 20-year-old self. And given that I'm too busy to take any exercise and too tired to embark on a diet, I might just need a return trip to India. If a repeat bout of violent gastroenteritis doesn't kill me, it might actually help me live longer.
...But I blame it on the Chicago octopus diet
One of the reasons I was relatively slim at 20 was that I was a fiercely picky eater and survived mainly on toasted cheese sandwiches. I was reminded of this when I read this week about the Oxford student who claimed she was "deeply hurt and alienated" when her college served octopus terrine at dinner, as she'd never had it before.
At 21, while still deep in toasted cheese territory, I arrived in Chicago on a J1 visa and found a job at an upmarket tapas restaurant. There were many weird and wonderful things on the menu - deep-fried snails, rabbit paella, raw tuna, tripe, and yes, octopus.
My initial wide-eyed horror turned to dread as the manager explained that as part of my training, I would have to sample everything on the menu, so as to accurately describe it to customers.
Too shy, embarrassed, and generally Irish to tell him that I only ate Easi Singles, I nodded dumbly and proceeded to spend the next week eating my way through every bizarre concoction the chef produced.
And guess what? Turned out it was all absolutely delicious. Overnight my transformation from person who ate very little (and weighed nine stone) to person who eats absolutely everything (and weighs a lot more) began. Come to think of it, if I were as snowflakey as that Oxford student, I'm sure I could sue the restaurant for making me fat and reducing my lifespan. If it hadn't been for tripe and octopus, I'd surely live forever.