Months of misery eating and drowning of sorrows have taken their toll. I have eaten enough chocolate to recession-proof Sir Hans Sloane and Cadbury - the latter offers rather better consolation. As in fiction, so in chocolate: Jilly Cooper is a guilty pleasure in a way that Proust could never be, and Galaxy will always comfort where Willie Harcourt-Cooze 's tiny dark blocks of Venezuelan 100% cacao can only exhaust one with its self-conscious artisanal craftsmanship. There's no wanton hedonism in something that could be considered improving - I want chocolate to have the potency of cheap music, and the anaesthetising effect of soma.
And it's not just the chocolate: as bad news hit at work - whether of redundancies or just the daily grind of doing more with less or hunting around in search of business with all the efficacy of a badly trained truffle pig - I hit the bottle. Not - I hasten to add - in an inelegant, or health-threatening way, although a piece in the newspaper on middle class binge drinking gave me cause to count units and flinch - but in the way that nothing feels really quite so ghastly after a couple of cocktails or a nice bottle of wine.
But of course, all good things must come to an end. One must always take the consequences of one's errant behaviour. And so, mid-May, as I found myself struggling to get into my summer wardrobe, I swept the dust off from the scales only to discover with horror that I've put on nearly a stone since Christmas. The anguish! The recriminations! The self-berating!
Nothing for it: what looks fabulous on Mad Men's Joan, only serves to shatter my amour-propre. And so it was that I marched straight to WeightWitches, to begin my penance for my season of indulgence.
Yet, as I was on my way back to the office, in possession of a points counter and stalwart determination, into the inbox of the Blackberry pinged an email link from the Guardian- a fascinating and salutory interview with 'Bodies' author, Susie Orbach, forwarded by my clever and beautiful friend Sarah Churchwell.
Orbach is most famous for 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' which, as Aitkenhead writes is 'a ground breaking work, the thesis of which was so simple that no one who read it could dispute its logic...diets make us fat by distorting our relationship with food'. More than thirty years later, Orbach asserts that we're more disconnected from our bodies than ever before: we can't get past our indoctrination by a plethora of media images that celebrates an exceptionally narrow definition of female beauty. Intellectually, we know this is wrong - the paradigm we want to have reflected back at us in the mirror every morning is an artificial construct - a fantasy achieved by a few, and then only with abject self-denial, vast expense and the aid of an army of assistants from plastic surgeons to personal trainers to airbrushers.
Yet somehow, smart as we think we are, and no matter how fervently we assert that the route to sanity is self-acceptance, when we deviate from this 'ideal', it's deeply troubling. The anxiety of not fitting in, of not conforming, of not being acceptable, surfaces again. Feeling 'fat' recalls all those horrid childhood memories of not being picked til last for the netball team, of being cast-out from the clique for not having Caran d'Ache colouring pencils, or some such stupidly trivial badge of belonging.
Like many women of my age and class, I've struggled with my relationship with food - 'normal appetite becomes pathologised as the enemy'. Fortunately, it's many years since I accepted that aspiring to eat nothing at all is not only time consuming (how the throught of food and its denial inhabits one's every waking hour), but also utterly bonkers. And actually, it was Weightwitches which de-pathologised my relationship with food, and re-taught me what a normal meal looked like. Yet in the office, the women talking about the new and seriously expensive diet drug Alli are not those with the required BMI of 28 - like me, most of them would need to be a good 28 pounds heavier to qualify - they're women who, again like me, struggle with this modern paradox. Whatever we might know and believe and subscribe to, and however much you might hear us praising the gorgeously voluptuous Joan, we still berate ourselves for not being Betty Draper.
But for me, the renewed commitment to a sleeker physical aesthetic is economically, rather than politically or even psychologically motivated: I simply can't afford a new wardrobe. I either drop the 13 lbs and wear last year's summer clothes, or I'm reduced to two or three rather ugly items in the wardrobe, one of which I last wore when pregnant. And it's also about time that I knuckled up to the harsher, more demanding world out there, rather than medicating myself with sweets and treats.
I can't pretend to have addressed any of the psychological issues that make me crave to maintain a weight that works for fashion. Nor can I pretend to have reconciled the contradictions around the distorted way women see themselves. Yet somehow I feel Orbach would support the breakthrough I've made in identifying the relationship that exists for me between troubled mood and disordered eating. Sometimes one needs to create a watershed moment in order to realise that one has both the courage and tenacity to square up to it and solve it.