Now what? - Lauren Booth

I counselled a man to lose weight, and now he's turned into a lecher

January is the month of waist-pinching, ring-twisting (were they this tight before?) guilt. I am avoiding the bathroom because the scales are in there. Soon I will have to step on them and face the fact that I now weigh more than I did in my eighth month of pregnancy. The fridge smells like Scrooge's socks. Opening it first thing in the morning is like burying my face in an athlete's washbasket (I know what that's like, because I once tripped and fell face first into my husband's rugby bag). Cleaning the fridge is out of the question. I can't face the reeking bits of cheese, pulling out strips of animal flesh, once known as "nibbles", or facing the rows of cream, double cream, creme fraIche and yoghurt.

January, fat and broke, is a bleak country. Even innocent pleasures such as looking at pictures of family are risky. I downloaded Christmas photos on to the computer. Grandad and younger, size-eight sister peered over my shoulder.

"Ahh, there's Alex in her Snow White dress, look!"

"Ahh, there's Holly eating Christmas pudding with her hands!"

"Oh, dear God. Delete! That's not funny. Stop laughing." It was too late: there was a slide show of shots where I look like Nicholas Soames after an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have at least two chins, and droopy areas where my cheekbones used to be.

Then a friend, a Hungarian chef, rang me out of the blue. He used to cook cream-laden, pork-fatty dishes in his small restaurant on the outskirts of London. The last time I saw him, he was feeling lonely. Over vodka shots, he told me how cruel women could be.

"I have no love in my life," he said sadly.

"But that's ridiculous," I said. And it was. He would talk with warmth and wit about his country, history, food, great literature. When he laughed, rooms lit up. In the six years I'd known him, I had watched him treat all women with genuine respect and admiration. His eyes twinkle, he is a terrific flirt. Yet last summer was his "half a decade without a single date".

The last time we met, talk turned (as usual) to his loneliness, his desire for a family. "Why can't a woman love me, Lauren? Tell me the truth." His eyes were shiny. Not knowing what to say, I told him the truth by mistake. "You'd have women falling over themselves to get to you if you could lose five or six stone."

He finished his vodka in one gulp, grabbed a handful of loose waist and shook it angrily at me. "This disgusts you?" He was more maudlin than angry. "I even undress in the dark," he said.

Soon after that night, he vanished. His restaurant was put up for sale. No one knew where he was. Then, this week, he called. When we met up, I was gobsmacked. He was tanned, happier than I'd ever known him and three stone lighter. He was sitting in a corner of a restaurant, in between two stunning, very young women. One girl nodded at everything he said. The other girl giggled. Both were having their thighs pawed. They were lap dancers. His eyes flicked this way and that - the eyes of a hunter, watching bottoms, breasts, thighs walk past his table.

"Well, Lauren, what do you think, huh huh? I lost most of the weight and all thanks to you. You said I would never be attractive if I was fat. So I got thinner and now look." He poked one of the girls in the ribs; she giggled. He ran a hand down the other's arm; she nodded mutely.

"Now you probably want me, too. But now you must get in line, huh huh? Now I make up for lost time and I am fitter, too, so can do more than before!" All I could say was that I was happy for him. And wonder if he had always been a lech hidden in a kind, brilliant man's flab? Or perhaps my own concerns about weight have turned a good man into a vain, sex-mad misogynist.

This article first appeared in the 05 January 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Find this man a job!