I haven't always been a flabster. There was a time when my brother Robbie was the chubby one and I was actually quite lean, kept in trim by a high-impact/low-repetition exercise regime of my own design which incorporated elements of dance, improvised drama, freestyle martial arts and parkour.
I called it playing outside.
By the time I was nine or ten, though, the Powers That Were at my primary school came to the conclusion that I should have grown out of such nonsense, and that if I wasn't going to channel my physicality into monomaniacally chasing a football around like everyone else, the best thing was that I should spend playtimes as a Front Door Monitor, and learn to conduct myself with Dignity and Decorum.
And so, incrementally, the lard began to accumulate... assisted, in time, by puberty and the greater appeal of sedentary pursuits like comics and roleplaying games versus football and violence (which seemed to be the only alternatives available, especially as the then District Council was closing swimming pools left right and centre at the time). I never got especially huge by comparison with some of the kids you see waddling around today, but this was an era when even playing video games generally meant walking a mile or so to the nearest arcade, so there were just fewer overweight teenagers around, and we stood out. I was only about 11 1/2 stone (160lbs) by the time I went to university, and 13 or so by my mid-20s - but at my eventual height and lacking any significant muscle tone or upper body strength, I felt pretty fat and unattractive for much of that time.
If you'd asked me, though, I'd have said that certainly I'd like to be slimmer, but I was used to it, and prepared to accept the spare tyre as a small price to pay for not having to wear hideous polyester sportswear or spend hours every day on the sort of repetitive and boring workouts I imagined losing weight would entail. There was a lot of received wisdom floating around that I picked up - dieting doesn't work, you need to go to a gym three times a week, and so on - and I just figured it was time I could be spending doing more interesting things.
But then, early in the new millennium, my friends began to retreat from the club scene and settle down, which meant I wasn't going dancing three nights in a row anymore; I started working in offices, and commuting by public transport rather than walking everywhere in town; and within a couple of years I ballooned. By 2004 I was 17 1/2 stone (245lbs), and just trying to find trousers in my size was a challenge (and depressing even when I succeeded, since the W40+ rails at M&S and Debenhams do not exactly cater to the more flamboyant gentleman). I started keeping an eye on my weight, and managed not to get any heavier over the next few years - but I couldn't shift any of it: short of caving in to the exercise-fascism I'd hated for twenty years, I simply didn't know how, and taking up jogging or something was out of the question anyway considering I could barely run for the bus without my heart and lungs bursting.
So that was the weight I stayed, all through my time in Shetland and for the half-decade following. This was me, at my mum's Significant Birthday in January this year:
(I'm the cackling Bond villain in the mustard weskit, obviously. Not my finest hour.)
That meal was the final event of a six-week festival of overindulgence even by my standards, which left me feeling so bloated, sluggish and uncomfortable in my own skin that I swore off puddings for a week, just to give my gut a rest. I wasn't intending to lose weight by doing so - it was more of a breather than a deliberate diet - but I felt better for it, so I kept it up for another week after that... and then another, and another... until by the time of the Glasgow Film Festival in February people who knew me were already starting to comment on how much trimmer I suddenly looked.
And it was true. I lost a full stone that first month, just by not eating cake. I hadn't even stopped drinking, let alone taken up any physical activity I wasn't already doing. I was astonished - surely it couldn't be this easy? I decided to carry on and find out - and sure enough, as the weeks went by, the fat continued to fall away. By mid-April I actually began to worry that it was coming off too quickly, and that I'd be left at whatever size I ended up swathed in hanging folds of once-taut skin like what's-his-name from Marvel's Generation X, looking even worse naked than when I'd started. So I started going swimming once a week, or twice if I could fit it in, figuring that hauling 100kg of meat through a resistant medium with my arms was as good a way of toning up as I could think of... but that was three months in, remember: it wasn't how I started, and I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't already felt lighter, brighter and more energetic than I'd been in years.
I've just dropped below 13 stone now, a weight I once thought I'd never see again. The last time I was this size somebody described me as looking like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle, but having now come back to it from the other direction, and in the middle of an obesity epidemic at that, I feel practically svelte. I mean, I've still got manboobs and lovehandles, and Men's Health and Attitude are not yet engaged in a bidding war for my swimsuit pics, but my shoulders are wider than my hips for the first time since John Major was in power, my arms are stronger than they've ever been, and I'm wearing a pair of vintage Calvin Klein jeans I bought in a charity shop in 1999 and haven't been able to squeeze into since before the Twin Towers came down. And I'm not done yet – if I keep going at this rate, by Christmas I'll be the weight I was as a teenager, and in considerably better shape.
I remain astonished at how easy it's all been. The secret?
- Eat when you're hungry, and for no other reason. Not because it's "lunch time" or because you're bored, upset or watching a DVD. My worst habit used to be eating for inspiration - if I got stuck composing a drawing, or I was waiting for something to dry, I'd make a cheese sandwich or something while I thought about what to do next. Multiply that several times a day for ten years and you're asking for trouble. I'm on one proper meal a day now, plus maybe some toast or a bowl of cereal, and for a still mostly-sedentary lifestyle that's all I seem to need. Apart from lots of coffee, obviously.
- No cake, pudding, or sweets. This is more of a guideline - I've had the occasional profiterole or squishy Haribo novelty these past few months, if somebody's offered me one of theirs - but once I dropped out of the habit of eating chocolate, say, it's amazing how little I've missed it. On principle, I refuse to miss out on my Christmas pud and brandy butter, but one day's indulgence is not going to reverse the general trend.