I am not overweight and people should stop judging others and throwing chocolate cake about, says Christa Ackroyd

Some people change duvets for winter, others change coats or entire wardrobes. Me? I change handbags. There is always something lurking at the bottom of the black hole that is my bag of the moment. From sweet wrappers to half-used lipsticks, theatre tickets to old receipts, when tipped out the contents are always something of a surprise and a pretty accurate reflection on what I have been doing these past few months. I look forward to this biannual declutter.
Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

Gone are the last rays of the sun and with them the light-coloured casually flung handbags of the summer. Winter bags are sturdy and sensible and dark coloured and represent my favourite time of the year. They go with wellies, warm boots and winter coats. What’s more I love winter clothes much more than summer’s flimsy offerings too. Nothing better than wrapping yourself up in layers upon layers of soft warm clothes. I love doing cosy and blankets and big wrapped coats.

It is the time of year when some people start buying Christmas presents, others clear out the summer bedding plants and I clear out the rubbish from the bottom of my handbag. It is a process to be savoured if only for the fact that more often than not there is at least a fiver’s worth of loose change scrabbling about there too. Slovenly, I know. Try as I may, my handbag always ends up looking like the inside of a skip. My mother was always horrified. “How do you find anything in there?” she would ask. She had a point. Sometimes things just go missing in there never to be seen again. This year there was something in there I wished I had never seen at all.

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There I was just about to put said cream summer handbag away when, folded neatly in a side pocket, was my discharge papers from my foot operation some six weeks ago now. Out of interest, I decided to discover the complicated Latin name for the operation that in truth was little more than a bunion with a few trapped nerves thrown in. But there it was in black and white, something I hadn’t seen until now. Post-operative risk... thrombosis. Reason… overweight. I was apoplectic. Still am.

First of all, I am not overweight. An immediate phone call to a friend who always tells it as it is confirmed this. What’s more over the past two years I have spent more and more time at the gym. Not the sweating pounding cardio sort of a gym which involves treadmills and, heaven forbid, running, but the stretching and strengthening sort of a gym which might not look it but is still pretty hard work. Four times a week I have been doing a mean downward dog and rather impressive roll-ups, rollovers and plank leg lifts. Pilates is not for wimps. It hurts. I feel better and stronger than I have for years. And here was a piece of paper telling me my real issue was I was overweight.

So here is the thing and it has happened all my life. Broad-shouldered (probably from childhood swimming) and narrow-hipped, my weight has always come as something of a surprise to the weigher. At just short of five foot nine, I weigh just short of 12 stone. I have been fatter (not good). I have been thinner (also not good) but for the first time in my life without the burden of TV which, with the advent of wide screen puts at least a stone on, I felt just right. But here was an official piece of paper telling me I wasn’t. Which just goes to proves what a nonsense it all is.

Ten minutes before my operation, I was asked to jump on the scales. My height was taken and my BMI worked out, proving me to be overweight, when I am not. Women know thyself, I am not fat. Broad, even slightly muscular yes, but not fat. The problem is the BMI index, which quite frankly is one size fits all and was developed, wait for it, in 1830, when people were a completely different body shape and size. What’s more, recent studies have proved it takes no account of body fat content, muscle mass, bone density or body composition. And yet here I was, still am, sweating over something written on a piece of paper from someone who if they had cared to check would have realised it was not as described. Not good. Not helpful. And indeed if I was overweight, why didn’t someone talk to me about it if it imposed such a risk to my health post-operatively? Thank goodness I knew my own self and my own body because if I had been some young teenager facing six weeks of enforced inactivity and no gym for at least four months, I would have driven myself mad. I would have probably stopped eating altogether.

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We have become obsessed with being the right weight when the right weight is different for all of us. Newspapers and magazines go from describing women as showing their ample curves to flaunting a washboard stomach. Dress sizes go up in inches to make us feel better about ourselves about what size we buy when we should always feel good about ourselves, no matter what size we are. Adele was championed when she was bigger for setting a good example and then described as somehow letting down her fans when she decided being big was not good for her or for her health. Bigger girls are paraded on the catwalk while secretly fashion designers have said for years that the skinnier the model, the easier they are to dress. So can we please just stop deciding for others what the perfect weight should or shouldn’t be.

We know when we are carrying too much and we know it’s not good for us. We also know how it got there by putting in more calories than we are burning off. We also know that in times of great worry, some people, myself included, use food as a prop. In times of financial hardship, our diet suffers as food becomes more costly and less nutritionally balanced. But can we please stop judging each other on how we look or what we see as the the “norm”. There is no norm when it comes to weight. It is how healthy we feel and how healthy we are. Trust me there is nothing healthy about sucking on a lettuce leaf or eating only an egg white omelette for a treat.

Food is fuel, which is why climate protesters have insulted us these past few weeks by either pouring it away or throwing it at works of art or over a waxwork model of the King. That is not going to persuade us to become vegan or even look at our consumption or carbon footprint when it comes to what we eat. It just makes us angry at a time when people are worried about how to put food on the table, not pour it on the floor.

So don’t let anyone tell you who you are, what you should look like or who you need to be. Eventually, like me, everyone reaches an age when they know who they are and have the guts to say fat chance when it comes to listening to what others have to say about them. As for smearing food over a waxwork king, what a total waste of perfectly good chocolate cake that was.