Week One on the Fat Farm: Tantrums, barbed wire, cultural misunderstandings, blissful floating looking at the stars …
Monday 11th July
First day, confused and feel like shit.
Ryan Air lands me in Gdansk in the afternoon. No passport control, and Krystjof the taxi driver is waiting with a sign at the arrivals gate. I was worried the sign would read “Kate Panties” or something. It’s happened before. I had a minuscule film part a hundred years ago where I was credited as ‘Kate Panty’. Don’t bother to google it. It sank without a trace.
A pleasant drive with Krys whose wife calls him three times on the journey. He has her on hands-free and they laugh a lot. I ask him if they have a happy marriage – it seems so. He smiles shyly and says, “Yes, thirty years happy.”
The farm is a mildly gated community. A security controlled entrance and barbed wire fences. Is this to keep predators out or fat people in? (A cheap joke, but too obvious to not.)
I have a panic attack when they give me the wrong exchange rate for my stay. It’s not 50,000,- thankfully. That would be in Thai Bhat, not Norwegian kroner.
I then go nuts to find out where everything is. The girls behind the reception desk are pretty and rude. That’s my take, anyway. I get no information, just a key card to my room. I must ask when food is, what food is, where food is. They answer monosyllabically. So I have to ask more and more questions and then they get annoyed with me for asking questions. I’ve done my stint in customer service. Back in the 1990’s I was the manager of the customer service department for 12 West End theatres (that’s true). You’d be amazed how many people pretend their kids have terminal cancer so they can get free tickets and a back stage jaunt to Phantom of the Opera via the Make-A-Wish foundation. Suffice to say I can spot shitty service a mile off. However, therapy has taught me that if people are rude or incompetent it’s just my ‘perception’ and I’m ‘projecting’ my own baggage onto perfectly civil and efficient folk. So I’m pissed off but assume the fault is in my own stars for I am a fat and grumpy pig and the girls at the reception desk are young and thin.
As I’ve arrived in the evening, I get dinner.
It’s a lot of raw vegetable. Reminds my of my nan in Vienna. Vinegar-y, and dill-y. Nice. I’m shocked to hear that coffee is not on the menu, not now, not ever. This will be brutal – and where can I smoke? [Yo, shut up your inner dialogue. I’m not here to detox or get my wellness freak on. I’m here to reduce.]
There is also no Wi-Fi in my room, and as this farm is in the heart of the Kashubian forest there’s no phone signal for hot spotting. I figure this will be ‘good for me’. No late-night Netflix. I don’t use Netflix to chill, I use it to stop the demons crawling out from under the bed. I get terribly troubled at bedtime. I am still, at the age of 56, afraid to turn the lights out.
Speaking of which. The bed is hard as nails – a box mattress with no over mattress. I feel it in my hips and that makes me feel even older and fatter. I can feel the weight of me, digging into the metal springs.
Before retiring I have a massage in the massage department - A gentleman from Sri Lanka with very strong hands. He is extremely formal and diligent. I then wander forlornly to my room. I realise the books I’ve taken with me are all ‘educational’. The least heavy-going of them is Eichmann in Jerusalem, ffs. I had these noble plans of reading myself up right good. I should have brought a Kindle stuffed with true crime. I don’t get on with Kindles though. I’ve tried, but can’t retain the data if I can’t turn an actual page.
Tuesday 12th July
Get up at 7am and weigh myself. They don’t make a big deal about weight here, interestingly. There’s a scale in the gym, and I am warned that it is extremely accurate. Hurrah! I love an accurate scale. It says 79.5kg. A huge, almost magnificent sum. I am amazed and appalled. M, the director is sweet and competent, and we talk about the program I’m on. He is horrified that I want to stick to 460 calories a day for one month. In fact, he laughs in my face. I’m glad. At least someone is in control of my mad project. He suggests 460 for five days and 1200 for three, repeat until done. Now it’s my turn to be horrified. 1200 calories! Too much! Too much! I can hear how disordered I sound. But he’s right, and if I had a healthy relationship to calories I wouldn’t be here, so I agree to the ‘plan’. At one point I say to him, “I’m fit, but I’m also fat.” He glances me up and down briefly and says, “No, I wouldn’t say that.” I think he meant that I’m not that fat, but you never know.
At 7.30am I go down to the lake where another (grumpy) member of staff (male this time) takes us through some hilarious calisthenics before telling us to literally jump in the lake. We’re a generic group of guests. Ethnically un-diverse, most hovering round 60, all overweight to varying degrees One woman has brought her daughter with her. The daughter seems uncomfortable in her own skin. I wonder if she’s at the start of a life-long weight loss journey and all the miseries that entails. Or if this trip with her mum will curb it. Nip it in the bud. N, the calisthenics instructor watches us sadly. Jumping into a cold lake at sunrise is a surprisingly marvelous thing, though. I thought ‘there must be a god’, as the shock jolted the cortisol up and jettisoned my morning angst. It felt splendid. I wondered what I was worried about and make a pact with myself that I’ll take cold showers or ice bathe in the fjord every day for the rest of my life. Nothing like setting the bar too high, I say.
I usually wake up with my heart pounding, and my brain starts ruminating on all the shitty things I’ve done in my life, and all the people who hate me. A pendulum swing between self-loathing and grandiose rage. I genuinely think I’m justified. I once went weeks freaking myself out by agitating every morning over the phrase ‘trans-women are women’. (Don’t. It’s complicated).
After the swim, we trudge up the path to the residence, get changed and meet again in reception for a ‘morning forest walk and stretching’. We amble into the woods, find a clearing, and N takes us through even more Cold War calisthenics. I’m all superior, seeing as I’m one of the younger ones and I’ve done a lot of ‘training’, but fuck me I couldn’t keep up. I like being brought down a peg or two, though. Learning things about myself. I’m not that fit, after all. I like the other guests. As a generic whole, this gang of over sixties doing their morning stretches, trying to take care of themselves. Hooray for them. Or rather, us.
A wave of exhaustion hits me after the stretching. I can hardly keep my eyes open as I crawl back to my room. I tell myself that for all my focus on calories and exercise and reading quality literature, the thing I need most is sleep. I put myself to bed (they teach you that at the trauma clinic, to be kind to Little Kate), and sleep for four hours. I get up, eat the raw lunch, and go back to bed, sleeping for four more hours. I don’t understand why this is happening.
After dinner (at 5.30pm) I walk a little, still very tired. I think of tiredness as weakness, and any perception of physical weakness makes me anxious. It’s the echoes of PTSD, the body that has kept the score. I learned that being weak was pretty dangerous. But that was then and this is now. I’m allowed to sleep now.
I have another massage – which is equally formal and not new-agey at all. I remind myself that this is what I came for.
But first …
The sauna by the lake.
I am late for the first aufguss at 8pm, and delighted the sauna master shakes his head gruffly, not allowing me entrance. That’s sauna discipline! Love it. I come to the second shift. It’s a good blast of molten heat, which does the trick.
An older gent dives into the lake, stark naked – no one reacts. A lot of big knobs today. The women are all modestly covered but the chaps have got their old cocks out. I don’t know what Polish culture says about naked bathing – it’s not Germany, after all. I assume they’re uptight about women getting their kit off. But I don’t like being bound in a costume while men can swing free, so I pull down my swimsuit to feel the cool lake water on my skin. It is lovely. Another woman does the same. Maybe we’ll all get naked, eventually.
The sunset behind the forest on the other side of the lake casts a heavenly light in the sky. The aftereffects of the sauna are trippy, and everything is beautiful. I float on my back, looking at the pale blue starry sky. I want to remember this feeling, recycle it in times of need. Remember the world is beautiful. I never feel fat in water.
After I’ve dried, I go for a stroll in the grounds and find a smoking spot. A table right outside the reception but distanced enough it won’t bug nonsmokers. Although no one bats an eye. Clean air, clean food, a late-night cigarette. Because not everything that’s bad for you is bad for you. Context and relativity.
Wednesday 13th July
Another restless night. Aware my difficulty in sleeping is only at night, so the night is the thing. The quiet and the dark. I realise I wake up worried every morning. My mind fixates on one thing as soon as I’m conscious. This morning I scratch at the scab of rejection. I recently got rejected for a position I worked hard for. It upset me very much and I can’t work out why.
Weigh myself. 77.95. Down 1.5 kgs. A little rush of pleasure, like getting a ‘like’. I remind myself it’s all very fanciful. It’s water weight I’ve lost, I have poohed etc.
Still feel heavy though. Heavy. Like I am carrying a weight. A dead weight. And it is resisting release. It’s connected to these grim worries and memories. Rape, murder. It’s just a shot away.
7.30am swim. Everything is voluntary here, but the first flush of novelty has already worn off and I’m grumpy that they are making me do this. The truth is I’ve set a standard for myself and I panic that I’m a rubbish person if I don’t do the things I say I’ll do in an attempt to make me a better person.
A new morning trainer. I spend the walk down to the lake thinking about the staff here: how long their shifts are, where they train to do what they do, how much they are paid, how they got these jobs. Are they happy? Is this a posh place? It’s all relative.
Within seconds of swimming in the cool gentle lake, with the morning sun doing its thing, the brain chemicals shift and things look less grim. No miracle cure but proof that brain chemicals can mess up your head, or soothe your head. If you don’t like what’s in your head, change your mind. The abstract objective truth of things is rarely what we (literally) think it is.
Thursday 14th July.
Septicemia, meningitis, pneumonia. I’ve had these illnesses. Today felt like a cocktail of all three. The meningeal pain across the back of my head, my back feeling like it was kicked all night, the chills and fevers. The only cause I can come up with is ‘sugar detox’? But what in the holy fuck. First off, I don’t believe in ‘detox’. The same as I don’t believe that Rachel Doleziel is Black. No, detox isn’t a thing. So why am I experiencing what is typically described as detox symptoms? This is more like withdrawal. I’ve been around enough junkies to know what that looks like. What in the name of good fuck? Withdrawal from… what? I make an inventory of all the things that have abruptly been cut from my diet. Things I eat regularly enough (ie.,
daily) that abrupt cessation would be noticed. All I can come up with is cake and ice-cream. The last couple of months there’s been a LOT of cake and ice-cream.
Bit of a blur. I find a bit of wifi and try watching stuff on Netflix, but the Gods of Detox laugh in my face. 20 seconds of playback then 2 minutes of buffering. I’m not that desperate, so I fish out one of my books: A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518. It’s a rip roarer. I don’t read fiction unless it’s written before 1975 - preferably by an American man. (Don’t. It’s complicated). I’m really not interested in other people’s fantasy worlds, even if they have won a shed load of prizes and are the voices of their generation. Fiction is about as interesting as hearing other people’s dreams. Unless it is fiction written by Heller, Vonnegut and the like. That’s just how I feel. These days. So these days I stick to non-fiction. I think the story of the dancing plague of 1518 would make a great ballet and I would like to write the choreography-libretto for it. If such a thing exists. All art should be highly allegorical these days, I think. Enough docu-drama! (Although I’m currently writing a docu-theatre thing myself. I am nothing if not aware of my 10 carat hypocrisy).
The rhythm of the day: Breakfast 9am. Lunch 13.30. Dinner 17.30. That’s it. It’s only taken five days and I’ve kicked the habit of snacking in the evenings - because there is no food to snack. That’s not true, they have a shop here that sells local cheeses, nuts and honey. I don’t even think about breaking the diet. No cravings, and not hungry. I tried thinking about my go-to evil foodstuffs: Scones from KB, ice-cream from Narvesen, fish and chips. It all seems a bit heavy and glutinous now. But that could change in a heartbeat when I get back to life, back to reality. I tend to idealise things.
At 6pm I have a tantrum at the reception desk: Everything is wrong. The staff are rude, I get no information. The barbed wire makes me feel like I’m in prison. I don’t understand the food (they just plop it down in front of you at your assigned table). I’m overwhelmed. M the director – thirty-ish, handsome in a bookish way, perfect English – instantly says “I’m here for you, anything you need.” We sit down for an hour and I give him my list of grievances. I’m not a complete cunt, so I concede that my gripes might well be a combo of cultural differences, language barriers and raging Hanger. He explains what needs to explained, welcomes criticism and all’s well that ends well.
Listened to the Robson/Safechuck podcast. I’ve been following Wade Robson and James Safechuck on SoMe since the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland came out. I’ve also had a couple of personal conversations with Wade. They are extraordinary men and are dedicating their lives to helping survivors of child sex (and other) abuse. I have a long way to go in my own journey of healing – the fat farm is of course more than a fat farm for me – and Robson and Safechuck have been a meaningful part of that journey. In today’s episode of their pod - From Trauma To Triumph - they speak of gratitude. There’s no new age woo here. Just common sense. I think of what I’m grateful for and the list is very very long.
Sauna in the evening and lake swim. Everything is always beautiful, floating and looking up at the night sky.
Slept better. Woke up without a nag of dread, momentarily. The aches, pains and chills have gone. They say the first three days are hell when you go on this diet. It clocked in at four for me, but I woke today and all the grim shit was gone. (M the Director did however warn me it kicks in again at days 7 and 8 so don’t put your guard down). I like that. It’s a Holy War. Still, I think a lot. A lot. My mind has learned to whir – that’s part of ptsd they say, and I concur. But I’m a long way in my recovery from breakdown so I go for a walk, or take an arse-stomach-‘thights’ workout, or sit in the sauna and just try not to get all wound up because, you know, first world blah, scheme of things blah, gratitude blah.
And if this was my last day on earth would I want to spend it counting calories and worrying about how many people hate me? I think perhaps not. But I seem to have little control over how and I think. If this was my last day on earth I’d sweat plasma trying to worry about the snarky things they’ll say about me on twitter when I kick the bucket. My great fear is having a comedy death. You know, being crushed under a porta-potty, or getting cancer of the anus, being run over by an electric scooter, or worse slipping on an actual banana skin and smashing your cranium. Then again, maybe that would be rather liberating, having a quick but ignoble death. The best of course was Tommy Cooper - the great British comedian that millennials - in all their disregard for anything that existed before 2010 - will never have the pleasure of. He dies on stage. A myocardial infarction. In the middle of his act he clutches at the red velvet curtains, slumps to the ground, gasps, and croaks. The audience roars. Everyone said ‘it’s how he would have wanted to go’. But I reckon it must have been pretty frightening and lonely. Tears of a clown and all. Ah well. Here’s to having a great death. Whatever that might look like.
First day of 1200 calories. (recap: M the Director has me on five days of 460 and three days of 1200, repeat til done). I’m a bit too excited about breakfast. And confused when it’s the same as every day: a plate of raw cabbage, carrot juice and a plum. I decide not to storm off to reception complaining, and see what happens at lunch. Lunch is terrifying: fish, couscous, orange juice. I panic. This is part of the 1200, clearly. It’s too much. Carbs. Fish. It tastes really good. What the fuck. I try and convince myself these chaps know what they’re doing. Still the nagging doubt that I am the only human in history whose body refuses to lose weight on a healthy diet. Cambridge, Herbal Life, juicing, water, colon rinsing. I’ve tried them all. They don’t work but I still assume draconian is the way to go. That’s because my mental condition was so warped for so many years it is taking years to untangle the gordian knot. I’m still working on it.
The day today:
9am – breakfast
10am – workout with balls in the gym. (Big bouncy ones)
11am – Nordic Walking in the forest
12.30 – stretching
1pm – lunch
14.30 – Zumba – which was fantastic. I’m stiff and ungainly and I caught sight of how badly I was doing the moves in the mirror. But the other women were in the same place. Helena, from Greece got us all into a sweaty Zorba the Greek dance at the end. It was embarrassing. It was good. She asked me where I was from. “England,” I said, “though I live in Norway now because England’s fucked.” She said, “I’m from Greece which is more fucked, darling,” and we laughed our fat arses off and it was really nice.
15.30 – swam for 40 minutes slowly. I got to the pool thinking it was aqua aerobics, but I was an hour early, so I swam while thinking about numbers. Counted in my head how many calories I’ll consume this month, minussed them from my usual intake, divided the remainder by 7.500 etc. It was meditative. Nutty, stupid, disordered. But also, meditative. It’ll be what it’ll be.
16.30 – aqua aerobics. The aqua aerobics trainer also does workouts and the evening sauna. I saw his willy when I swam in the lake the other day, and I’m aware I’ve seen his willy every time he counts down (in Polish) as we hufflepuff our way through his routines. Ah well. I only ever see willies in the sauna, these days, such is my cloistered life.
Supper was a greek salad - which seemed fitting. The feta was outrageous - all three square centimeters of it. I’m not messing about. It was so creamy and rich. Almost too much. This is a tivoli of understanding. How all these things I do are habits - how we can reprogramme and hack ourselves for good or ill.
For good. Surely.
In the pool, I also thought about why I am doing this. I don’t believe in God, but if I did, I’d be doing this as a tribute to the thing he created which is human. It’s rubbish that we’re all so clunky and crippled - slouching along with our ailments and stiff joints, carrying the weight of it all. Absolute horseshit. This body. What a miracle. What a potential for fuckup. I’d like to live my best life. Whatever that means.
Monday 18th July
The day filled with activity - Nordic walking, stretching, aqua aerobics, zumba, sauna. I fill the day with activity so that I don’t think. The summers in Norway have always been my darkest time - lonely, and so full of other peoples’ drunken noise. If I had a superpower it would be to turn off the volume. Or make drunk revelling people shrivel into turdballs of misery. Get a life you pricks, I want to tattoo on their cerebella. The natural world is just chaos, homicide and suffering (that’s a David Attenborough quote). This pretense at civilisation is horseshit. No wonder we’re crawling into fat farms, hash stupours. Let’s at least call it what it is: escape from the harsh reality that is life. We are a species with primal evolutionary instincts, medieval institutions and the technology of capricious gods. Generation AI: you are fucked, and you are fucking us. Shamans and self-identification - is that the best you can come up with? Our lot came up with Penicillin and put a man on the moon.
I knew this would happen. This isn’t hunger. My therapist warned me of this. That as I drop kilos, I become enraged because I’m not ‘protected’ by the fat anymore. I think she’s way off piste in her theory. But I don’t have an alternative to it. Protected from what? Ah yes, the Shadow. The thing from long ago. The thing that has a name but is so murky and haunting. Fuuuuck. Maybe this grinding intellectual rage is part of the figuring it out. I find fault with everything today. Except the moon and the stars, the trees, Red Admiral butterflies, the clear lake, the ridiculous joy of Zumba, Catch 22, the theme tune to the Crown, everything Armando Iannucci has ever made, the equisite ergonomy of the rose gold Mac, sleeping in a warm bed at night, not being bombed. Etcetera.
I talk to Lassan, from Tunisia in the evening. We are sitting on a crappy cracked and fake Chesterfield three-seater in the reception. This really is a cheap fat farm. All hail. We’ve been on nodding terms since last Thursday, so he feels like a close friend. He is a large older gentleman. I was playing Patience the other day and he said, “Do you read the stars in the cards?” He thought I was laying Tarot. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I said, “I do, a little, but right now I am playing Patience.” He smiled. Sweet Christ. I am so grateful when people smile at me. I figure it’s karma that so many people scowl at me, because I did a few decades of scowling at the world. Later, Lassan and I discuss our diets. His doctor tells him he must lose weight to reduce his heart medication. He has sciatica so he couldn’t join in with the exercise classes at the farm, although he wanted to. He a fine and sweet man. We talked about how the temptations of food are troubling, and the fault lies in our own stars. All we are trying to do is live a decent healthy life.
It comes back to the why. Why do I want to live a healthy life? I could indulge myself into morbid obesity and still ‘live a life’. This pursuit of what - happiness? If you don’t believe in God it doesn’t make any sense. If you haven’t got kids (and now I’m approaching the age of grandkids) to ‘want to be healthy for’ so you can ‘play with them’ - then what’s the point? There is no guarantee that being healthy and slim will pay the bills. Look at Robert Maxwell ffs. It is all so very random unless one is dedicating one’s life to the afterlife. Dammit. Shoulda believed in God.
Dinner was a salad with Camembert cheese. I have never understood stink-cheeses and their appeal. These are the ultimate grown up foods. I am suspicious of people who go nuts for stinky cheese. Salivating, and oohing and aahing, and scooping it up on artisanal bread bits and making sex-faces as they chew and mmm and ahh on it. It’s rotten mush for fuck’s sake - what’s wrong with you. I am a pietist and stoic at heart: I think there is something fundamentally disgusting about loud expressions of physical enjoyment, especially with food. Animals don’t do it. You don’t see an animal sighing and purring or barking while it eats. It just gets on with it.
I asked for something else. In any other situation I would have just not eaten it, but each mouthful of food here is important. In my defense, this is the first time in my life I have asked for a different dish of food in a restaurant. So, you know.
Late night sauna was good as always. The walls in my room are (oh you capricious gods) naturally paper thin, so I can hear the bloke in the next room snoring. Earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, job done. Perhaps I too snore, and I am keeping some poor bastard awake – staring at the ceiling cursing my very existence. You never know.