“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public” – Winston Churchill.

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Why do our brains want us to be fat?

Runners in the London Marathon

Some new research has shown that regular exercise not only staves off heart disease, diabetes, stroke risk and some cancers but also helps keep your brain healthy, so you are less likely to succumb to dementia.
This isn’t really news – scientists and doctors have been banging on about the amazing benefits of regular exercise for generations.
With this in mind, I watched the London Marathon at the weekend and then heard that a friend is now in training for an ultra-marathon (50 miles).

Marathon bar

For those of you that didn’t know what Snickers used to be. Don’t get me started on Opal Fruits


Why? We all chorus. Why do they do it? I’d rather eat a Marathon for 26 miles than run one (that’s a joke for everyone over 45).
But we all know why – being fit makes you feel bloody brilliant. Your sleep is better and you need less of it; your energy levels are higher and stay higher; you automatically eat healthier food and – and here’s a cracking bit – you can get away with eating more, so can shrug off the odd shashlik chicken or plain chocolate Bounty. Aches and pains melt away, you get up from a chair without saying ‘oof’ and can run for a bus, the school pick-up or last orders without being sick.
On top of that is the mental benefits. I don’t mean the amount of oxygen in your brain means you are likely to be staving off Alzheimer’s disease. I mean the sheer, heartwarming smugness of knowing you are in good shape.
Better shape than the cow-flanked families queuing into the car park at McDonalds; better than that bloke at work who has a Wispa and two cans of Coke for his breakfast and whose breathing sounds like a rusty old boiler; better than the expanding backside of the woman rolling down the supermarket aisle, trolley loaded with fun-size Bounty bars and family pack Doritos.
Runners

Look how happy she is – how healthy, how charmingly smug


You are slim; you are fit; you wear trainers and leggings because they are your workout gear, not your couch clothes – you are better than everyone else in the room.
It’s a no-brainer that being fit brings nothing but good. Only it isn’t. A no-brainer that is.
Because, if it was, we’d all be running marathons and chomping on bananas instead of Bounties. And we aren’t, because our brains don’t let us.
You can rationalise it much as you like, read up on the medical evidence, imagine yourself two sizes slimmer and eight sizes smugger, but it doesn’t stop you ordering chicken korma with rice and a side of Bombay potatoes and a peshwari nan and poppudoms and dips. For the fifth time in a month.
And anyone who has staggered their way through a run, or cycled round the park, or got to the end of an exercise class knows without a shadow of a doubt how good, how euphoric you feel afterwards. For a long time afterwards too, right into the next day when your stiff legs and aching arms are a cause for secret smug smiles.
But, as far as your brain is concerned, none of this trumps the ten minutes of pleasure to be gained from shoving a bowl of profiteroles down your neck. And even that isn’t unadulterated – you are wracked with guilt, or anger or misery at having given in. Yet still you do it.
Why brain, why?
Why isn’t the brain strong enough to say no? To remind you how much better everything is when you are fit, and how shit you will feel afterwards? What’s going on with evolution that the dubious short term delight of a tub of Ben & Jerrys with squirty cream and Golden Syrup will have you dumping the diet? Shouldn’t the threat of diabetes and heart disease have bred this need out of us?
A green apple

You should be reaching for this…


…instead you want this. And you want it SO MUCH


So why is it hardwired to go for the sugar and fat option? Does this go back to the Stone Age? Were there fur-loincloth wearing fatties, spreading their grilled dandelion leaves with mammoth fat and dipping their fingers into honeycombs? Can’t see it somehow – you needed to be fit and thin to run away from rampaging mammoths and swarming bees.
Or have we short-circuited nature with our statins and heart bypasses? Does our brain know, deep down, that it doesn’t matter if we spend our lives porking out in a chair because Medicine will sort it all out?
But even if this is the case, being fat and unfit feels shite, and being fat and unfit and sick feels even shitter. And your brain knows this, as it persuades you to drive to Pizza Hut instead of the swimming pool.
I have come up with two possibilities: The first is that our brains simply hate us. They tell us what we should be doing to make ourselves feel great, then go and make us do the opposite. Our brains want to upset us, to make us depressed, to feel like failures, to get ill.
Or: Our brains are really stupid. They want short-term gratification, to live for the day, to be comfy. They want profiteroles.

This place is lit up like a castle, and other grown-up phrases

I recently had a significant birthday, which kinda took me by surprise, because I thought by the time I got to this milestone I would have grown up.
Trying to remember what my parents were like at this age is hard. As a child, even a so-called grown up one, you are so self-centred you can’t see anything from anyone else’s point of view.
Only now, with an electricity bill the equivalent to the GDP of a small country, do I realise what Dad’s beef was when he stormed around the house snarling “this place is lit up like a bloody castle” and turning all the lights off.

A barn without a door

Where you born in a bloody barn?

And while I’m on the subject, what’s with leaving the doors open all the time? It doesn’t matter that you are coming back into the room in half an hour’s time, my ankles are bloody freezing now.

Some of the stuff I can remember is the things I thought grown-ups should do, the things I was determined I would do once I crossed the shining threshold into grownupness.

What you say you will do
In the 70s, my mum’s favourite chocolates were Black Magic, and Dad bought her a box at Christmas, Easter and on her birthday. I don’t know how, but she made them last ages, starting with the Liquid Cherry and finishing up with the Hazelnut Cluster weeks later. Not me, I vowed. When I am grown up, I will buy a whole box of Black Magic chocolates and eat it all to myself, all in one day.
And why you can’t
Calories. Fat content. Fear of cholesterol levels. Deep-seated guilt. And the fact they don’t make old fashioned Black Magic anymore and I can’t be doing with a truffle.

What you say you will do
Call in sick to work and go to the beach. You can’t do this at school. You need a parent and a note and a way of getting to the beach. But when you work, you can just tell them you’ve got flu and have a free day off – why not do it every month?
And why you can’t
You just don’t. The obligation – to your colleagues, to the faceless monolith that pays your salary – is too strong. And there is the nagging feeling that you are jinxing it somehow. The irrational idea that by taking a day off you don’t deserve you will not get the time off when you do need it. This is total grownupness

What you say you will do
Stay in the house, on the settee and watch TV all day.
And why you can’t
Your back will seize up with all the inactivity, the children will need feeding and you need to get up to sign for the Tesco delivery.

What you say you will do

Here comes the dawn – how bad do you feel? (http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com)

Stay up all night. Bedtime is for boring losers.
And why you can’t
It makes you feel shit. That horrible cold feeling in your chest when the sickly light of dawn filters through and you realise you have to be in work in an hour. The days it takes for your body clock to sort itself out. Shudder.

What you say you will do
Rejoice every evening and weekend. When I stayed on to do my A Levels, a lot of my friends got jobs (or went on YTS schemes. This was the 80s). Whenever they moaned at how they dull it was, how they hated it, how much better school was, I bridled. When you are in education, it never leaves you. There is always another book you can read, some more notes you can write up, a bit more revision you can do. When you work, your evenings, weekend and holidays are yours alone. Joy.
And why you can’t
Education is interesting. Work isn’t. Work is riven with office politics and fear, learning about Napoleon isn’t. You are never free of work, you spend all evening checking your work emails, all weekend worrying about your Monday morning meeting.

An old box of Black Magic chocolates

I can remember what every single one of these beauties tasted like

What you say you will do
Lose weight easily, as all the food in the house will be food you have bought. It will all be carob-coated rice cakes and baked potatoes, not chocolate cake, Tizer and frozen pizzas.
And why you can’t
Because when it comes to buying your own food the last thing you bloody want is a carob-coated rice cake. What you want is a whole box of Black Magic chocolates.