Iain Gray Freelance Writer

Changing a lifetime’s eating habits - Week 1

Products containg plant sterols claim to reduce 'bad' cholesterol levels significantly. Iain Gray is one of four Telegraph journalists to put it to the test.

Up until about a day before my cholesterol test results were presented to me, I had always maintained a fairly positive attitude towards my health. 

Although I didn’t do as much exercise as I should and usually swapped my five-portions-a-day from vegetables to vodka, I rarely got sick.

I knew I wasn’t particularly fit but I never had a problem walking to the pub, or climbing the stairs to the upstairs dining area at my local curry house. And although I was a little over my ideal weight, I couldn’t imagine ever having to be removed from my house through a window. By a crane.

I was just a normal 30-something man, living a fairly unhealthy but nonetheless fairly harmless lifestyle. I had little or nothing to worry about.

Even during the test itself I remained quietly secure in my personal wellbeing, especially when blood from the tiny prick on my finger sprayed over the poor nurse’s arm. “I’ve never had that happen before,” she gasped. My circulatory system was suddenly powered by smugness.

However, as the fateful hour approached, I became increasingly gripped by doubt. In my mind, the occasional trips to the pub instead of the gym started to transform into six-month long benders with Keith Moon, Keith Richards and Keith Floyd. And my diet went from mildly unhealthy to one so rich in red meat that even Alfred Packer would have reached for the salad bowl in disgust.

Rational thought, that sadistic despoiler of happy ignorance, started to join in the fun at my expense, pointing out that the long, sedentary hours spent at my desk and the pretty-much unremitting stress associated with my job would have done me no good at all.

Every heated discussion, every aggravating e-mail, every infuriatingly ill-judged decision was no longer just an annoyance but another tick in a box on a very long, very sinister form with my name at the top.

My heart began to pound, suddenly working overtime in its desperate attempts to force treacle-like blood through the last miniscule gaps remaining in my fat-filled arteries. How could I have been so stupid? Why had I not taken better care of myself? Why is it that sausages are so devilishly tasty?

After that a mild depression weighed me down, like some fatty black dog sitting on my chest. Would I be able to play football with the children I hoped one day to have the energy to conceive with the woman whom I hoped I would have the breath to walk down the aisle?

As it happened, the X Factor-esque disclosure of my lack of good health came as a bit of a relief after my day of mild insanity.

My cholesterol turned out to be higher than it should but not as high as it could have been - it’s 6mmol/l (millimoles per litre) when it should be 5 or less.

I was told that I could stop worrying about the sudden heart attack - but that I should perhaps start worrying about how to change my lifestyle for the better. Cutting down on the drinking and the fatty foods would be a good start. Now I was really scared.


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