No sacred cows

In today’s brave new world, fat is a high-tech issue

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

I have a confession to make: I’m a yo-yo dieter. For the past ten years, I’ve lost a bit of weight in January and then spent the rest of the year putting it back on. Problem is, I’ve been adding more than I’ve been taking away, with the result that at the end of last year I was 12st 13lb. That might not sound like much to the average Spectator reader, but I’m a bit of a short-arse — 5ft 8½in if you must know (and, yes, I’m aware that adding that ½ is a bit tragic). That meant my body mass index was 27, which, according to the World Health Organisation, is officially overweight.

In one of Clive James’s books of memoirs — volume two, I think — he wrote that you don’t gradually become fat. Rather, you just wake up one day and discover you’re a fat person. That’s how I felt on 1 January. It didn’t help that I had stupidly bought my only good suit in the sales more than a year ago when I was a svelte 12st. Fastening the top button of my trousers involved sucking in my stomach and then hoping nothing went pop when I breathed out. I felt like a sack of potatoes with a rubber band round the middle.

The solution, I decided, was to lose more weight this year. Try to get down to 11½st. But how? Inspiration struck when an old friend of mine — Simon Gosling — gave me a tour of a high-tech home he’s built for Unruly, the digital advertising company he works at. It was a fascinating glimpse into the future, complete with voice-activated lighting, an augmented reality headset so you can see what a new sofa will look like in your sitting room before buying it and a fridge that adds milk to your shopping list when it detects that you’re running out. But the gizmo that really caught my attention was a wifi body scale that not only calculates your weight, but sends the data to a health app on your phone so you can monitor how much you’re losing (or gaining).

I immediately ordered one on Amazon, along with an activity-tracking watch that tells me how many steps I’ve done each day, how many calories I’ve lost, etc, and can link up with the scale and the app via Bluetooth. The final piece of the puzzle is a dieting app that calculates how many calories I’m allowed to eat every 24 hours if I want to get down to my target weight by the end of this month.


You may think I’m a fool for believing all this tech is a substitute for a bit of old-fashioned willpower, but I cannot tell you what a difference it has made. The sense of reward I get when I step on the scale in the morning and it tells me that I’ve lost weight — it literally flashes up the exact amount I’ve lost to the nearest ounce — is enormous. Because it then sends this information to my phone, I can fire up the app when I get to work, click on the weight-loss graph and marvel at the downward–sloping gradient. It puts a real spring in my step, which is just as well because I’ve connected Caroline to the health app and we’re competing with each other to see who can do the most steps each day.

If I put on weight, by contrast, I feel an almost existential sense of despair. The little screen on the scale shows a plus sign rather than a minus sign — Armageddon! — and immediately adds an upward-sloping kink to the graph. O tempora o mores! The health app then lies in wait on my phone, ready to fill me with shame if I’m masochistic enough to launch it.

To keep myself on the straight and narrow, I’ve been reduced to calorie counting, painstakingly entering each morsel that passes my lips into the dieting app. This information is then conveyed to the all-powerful health app, which tells me how much of my daily allowance I have left.

On a typical day I will have spent my budget by lunchtime, but I can earn some calories back if I do enough steps. Not so much singing for my supper as walking for it, which isn’t easy when you’re a cyclist. I have taken to getting off the Overground one stop early and wheeling my bicycle back home just so I can earn enough calories to afford some grilled mackerel and salad leaves.

I go to bed hungry every night, which I know is interfering with my sleep because the health app monitors my sleep patterns via my activity watch (don’t ask me how).

It probably sounds as if I’ve gone completely insane, but I’m already back down to 12st. The suit is now a perfect fit. Only 7lb left to go.

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